Creative Ways to Say Thanks to Your Volunteers

It’s important to express gratitude to your members, especially those who routinely volunteer their time and effort to help you get important work done. Here are a few meaningful ways, big and small, to say thanks.

Last week was National Volunteer Week, and on the Leadership Blog, my colleague Mark Athitakis shared some ideas about how to engage new volunteers. That’s something that Melissa Swartz, CAE, devotes a lot of time and attention to as the volunteer engagement manager at ISACA, an association of IT governance professionals.

But last week, her focus wasn’t on recruiting new volunteers. Instead, ISACA took time to thank its current volunteers through its Volunteer Appreciation Week celebration, now in its second year.

“It was a good opportunity to highlight the impact that volunteers have on our organization and within the professional community,” Swartz says. “We turn it into a really fun campaign that the association staff can really get behind to support.”

Saying thanks is no small feat for ISACA, a global organization with 217 chapters worldwide and more than 3,000 chapter leaders. Swartz says appreciating volunteers is all about striking the right balance between showing small signs of gratitude routinely and making occasional grander gestures that resonate far and wide.

Last year, to drive home just how thankful ISACA is for its volunteers, Swartz and her team challenged staff to come up with answers to fill-in-the-blank statements like:

  • Thank you for . . .
  • ISACA volunteers make it possible to . . .
  • ISACA volunteers are . . .

Staff wrote their answers on response cards, and ISACA showcased them in a short video, which it emailed to all volunteers:

The video was a key element of Volunteer Appreciation Week, Swartz says. “We did a whole lot of social media promotion behind it too,” she adds. “That was really a fun campaign, and it really got the staff involved.”

Or consider the example of the North Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants, which sends volunteers a gratitude book filled with inspirational quotes and handwritten messages from staff.

Of course, depending on the size of your volunteer pool and your association’s time and resources, it may not be possible to send a handwritten note to every volunteer. ISACA is exploring alternatives like robot-written thank you notes that appear to be handwritten.

“It takes a handwriting sample and automates the process,” Swartz says. “It’s kind of an interesting approach on making something personal, and yet still time efficient.”

Grand gestures are great, but Swartz says it’s even more important for associations to make expressing gratitude a routine part of volunteer management. Operationalizing a process doesn’t have to be complicated, either. At ISACA, every Thursday is an opportunity to thank a chapter member on Instagram by using the hashtag #ThankYouThursday.

“It’s really a matter of asking: What can you do that is cost-effective, personal, and routine,” Swartz says. “We strike that balance every other week on Instagram by thanking a volunteer personally. By doing that, we also inspire others to get involved in volunteering.”

How do you thank your volunteer members in big and little ways? Please share in the comments.

(FoxysGraphic/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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