Volunteer Rewards Program: Say ‘Thank You’ With Points and Perks

Young hip man celebrating with arms above head, representing a volunteer rewards program

Whether its tackling societal challenges or uplifting those in need, the work of your nonprofit plays an important role in transforming humanity for the better. Much of this work wouldn’t be possible without the help and support of your dedicated volunteers, who give their time and service for free.

While most of these selfless individuals don’t expect a reward, showing your appreciation can go a long way for making them feel honored (and keeping them around). Here’s how you can use digital tools and a volunteer rewards program to celebrate the volunteers who help your organization thrive.

Finding Opportunities to Say ‘Thank You’

Volunteers are much more likely to stick around when they feel valued. Finding ways to celebrate and honor your volunteers is a simple way to show your appreciation, says Tetiana Hanchar at Judgify awards software.

“Through the recognition of vital volunteering contributions, you motivate people to move forward with their mission and reveal the positive impacts that their work produces.”

Celebrate the work of each volunteer on a personal level. What projects did they bring to life? How many hours have they worked with you? Highlighting these details shows the volunteer that you see all the hard work they’ve put in. 

There are two ways to celebrate this work: formally and informally. 

A formal way might include a designated thank you event or awards meeting, suggests Swim England. These formal events are often planned during specific times of the year, such as National Volunteer Week or National Volunteer Month, which are celebrated in April. Every year, organizations take advantage of these events to both recognize their volunteers and raise awareness for their organizations, says John L. Lipp, executive director at Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter.

In contrast, informal recognitions are more personal and celebrate the unique strengths of an individual volunteer, he adds. “Informal recognition is all about the small, everyday gestures one does to express gratitude for other people,” Lipp says. “Rather than being an event that the organization arranges, it’s an action initiated by a supervisor or co-worker and is more personal and spontaneous in nature.”

smiling volunteers around a meeting table with treats; representing a volunteer rewards program

Celebrating Volunteers on Social Media

Social media provides several outlets for organizations to recognize their volunteers.

For example, the Auckland Museum in New Zealand put together a wonderful three-minute video for its volunteers during National Volunteer week. This created an opportunity for the museum’s various volunteers to introduce themselves, talk about the work they do and give some insight into what motivates their commitment to the organization.

Another example comes from Denver Food Rescue, which tackles food waste by redistributing fruits and vegetables to low-income communities. In July, Denver Food Rescue used Facebook to highlight the work of three volunteers who donated their time to maintain an important program during the slow summer months. Simply saying “thank you” and naming each person individually generates mutual respect across the organization’s volunteers and the community that supports it.

Instagram can be used to celebrate volunteers in a similar way. In August, New York City-based dog charity Muddy Paws Rescue highlighted one of its dedicated volunteers on National Dog Day. Muddy Paws Rescue didn’t just say “thank you” to the volunteer. They also created a spotlight post, interviewing her and explaining where she went to school, what her hobbies are and what volunteering means to her. 

Similarly, animal rescuer empowerment charity Global Strays left a heartfelt message in August to its summer intern, Juliet, who was returning to college. Global Strays detailed what Juliet had helped with, why she cares about strays and how she has helped in the past. Being celebrated in this way not only shows volunteers that you value them; it shows that you truly know and see them. Volunteers who feel seen and heard are much more likely to continue donating their precious time.

Creating a Volunteer Rewards Program Using Points

Awards programs are a great way to incentivize volunteering while showing dedicated individuals that you appreciate their work. 

Save The Manatees, a Florida-based charity protecting manatees and their habitats, relies on a point system to award volunteers with exclusive apparel. Current volunteers can earn points by staffing tables, giving presentations and helping out at the office. Points can’t be transferred from year to year, which encourages volunteers to put in hours and then use up their points each year.

A points-based volunteer rewards program can be implemented in many different ways. A leading example of volunteer points is the Cabot Creamery Cooperative, which created a directory where participants can log their hours in exchange for points. The digital platform allows volunteers to engage in healthy competition and inspire their friends and family to sign up to do their part, as well. Cabot’s volunteer prizes include everything from vacations and high-quality socks to cheese cookbooks and gift cards. Some volunteers may even have the chance to attend the Cabot Celebrity Cruise.

For something more simple, you might consider emulating The Hours of Service recognition program at the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA). Donating 40 hours of time in a year earns volunteers a PCTA shirt; 100 hours of lifetime volunteer service earns helpers a bandana. PCTA volunteers are also eligible for regional and national passes to public lands. 

This strategy also serves as a smart example of how nonprofits can offer rewards that are relevant to the work itself. Volunteers who help out on trails are likely passionate about the wilderness, so rewarding them with free access to enjoy the great outdoors is an appropriate response.

Any organization can show gratitude to its volunteers this way:

  • If you’re organizing a music festival, give your volunteers free access to the sets and performances they most want to see.
  • If you’re organizing a film festival, make sure your volunteers get a chance to see some of the films they’re most excited about.
  • If you’re organizing a conference, make sure your volunteers get the chance to sit in on talks and other events.
  • If you coordinate volunteers for a library or museum, for example, make sure your volunteers get access to book signing events or exhibition openings.

happy volunteer snuggling a dog

Sharing Perks and Freebies in your Volunteer Rewards Program

Equipping volunteers with fun perks and branded merchandise can help make them feel like part of the team, too. Derek Miller at the GoDaddy Garage Blog suggests offering small tokens of appreciation that won’t break the bank. T-shirts are a classic, meaningful way to show your appreciation to volunteers. Apparel can also be used at marketing or fundraising events, where it’ll create a cohesive look and make your volunteers look like a unified team.

Another idea for a perk is to create a hangout space inside an organization where volunteers can connect and relax, says Jasmine Somaiah at CallHub. This space could be used for parties, brunches, or other personal and fun events that help volunteers feel valued. It could also give them a chance to enjoy the benefits of the work they’ve done. 

Take the horse training and riding nonprofit Fair Hill International, for example. It provides festival volunteers with access to the lounge, which overlooks the main horse arena for a view of the competitions and events that everyone worked so hard to make happen. Plus, this view comes with complimentary lunch and snacks.

To show your appreciation in a bigger way, a tool like Room to Reward can help you say “thank you” with a well-deserved treat. This organization takes unsold hotel rooms and offers them up to charity organizations, who can then allocate them to volunteers of their choice at no cost.

Size, mission and budget all play a role in determining the right way to say “thank you.” Starting small with social media posts or online points can help your organization make a habit of honoring — and celebrating — its most important members.

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