5 Ways to Steward Your Volunteers

Tips and tricks to steward your volunteers

Sarah Willey
April 5, 2021 · 3 min read
5 Ways to Steward Your Volunteers

We all know how important it is to say thank you to our donors. Beyond the regulatory requirement to provide an acknowledgement for tax purposes, we know that a donor who feels appreciated and understands how their donation touched another person’s life is more likely to give again.

It’s just as important, however, to thank those who volunteer their time instead of (or in addition to) their dollars. Their gift of time is, perhaps, even more valuable. After all, money is a renewable resource, and time is not.

This year, make sure your stewardship plans involve thanking your volunteers, even if they don’t make a monetary donation. (And for those that do both, make sure to say thank you for both!)

Why steward your volunteers?

  • They’ll be more likely to volunteer in the future.

  • They'll be more loyal to your organization.

  • They are likely donors too. Steward them and they may just up their donation.

  • They’ll feel even closer to your organization.

  • They are giving their time so it's the right thing to do.

  • The more connected your volunteers are the more likely they will be to share your amazing organization with their network.

Here are 5 ways to steward your volunteers:

1. Handwritten cards

The handwritten card is such a simple way to say thank you and is appreciated by all generations. (No, really – I’m a Millennial and can confirm that these mean a lot!)

Cards are inexpensive and they aren’t hard to write. It’s easy to personalize your message to the person you are writing to. If you have their monetary giving and volunteer history all in front of you while writing, it’s quite simple to say thank you for both.

Cards are also an easy thing to ask other members of your organization outside of fundraising to help with. Board members and program staff can provide a great perspective. I’ve also engaged members of a young professionals board in the past to help with this task!

2. Gift Card

A gift card can be a nice way of saying thank-you. It’s easy to get an electronic gift card to a number of retailers and restaurants that your volunteers can redeem safely from home.

Perhaps there’s a local business that partners with your organization that would be willing to donate gift cards to support this effort. After the difficult pandemic year, it might also be a good idea to use a little budget to purchase some gift cards – your volunteers will appreciate it and it’ll strengthen your relationship with a business that may be a partner or donor in your work.

3. Exclusive Experience

While it may not work for all organizations, some have some pretty cool experiences to offer. I volunteer with a zoo – they can really make us volunteers feel special by hosting special events like exclusive meals and behind-the-scenes looks at the parts of the zoo that guests don’t normally see.

Perhaps your organization is smaller and/or doesn’t have such interesting things to show off. I get it – I worked for a public interest law firm and nobody was quite as excited by the shelves of old law books as they would be to touch a penguin during an exclusive tour.

Even if you don’t have cute animals, you can make this work. I know of an advocacy organization that offers coffee time with the Executive Director, which allows volunteers to feel closer to the organization and get a better understanding of the work they make happen. An environmental organization does a special picnic and hike. If all else fails, maybe you have another nonprofit you partner with that will provide a tour you can offer your volunteers?

4. Public Recognition / Awards

Playing to the ego sometimes works! You may even have some volunteers who are hoping the experiences they have as a volunteer will round out their resume and LinkedIn profile and help open doors for them in their professional journey.

Recognition can take a lot of forms. At one end there are awards complete with a plaque for the wall, acrylic or crystal decorative item to commemorate their achievement, perhaps given during a fancy event. It’s also possible to offer less grandiose items, such as lapel pins or even stickers.

There doesn’t have to be a physical gift included when providing recognition of volunteers, however. One of my favorite ways to do this in the past has been recognizing volunteers with spotlights on the website blog. This is a win-win because it not only makes the volunteers feel special when they see their story, but it feeds the need for fresh website content as well!

5. Video

You knew the video would have to be one of the suggestions, right? This is the Gratavid blog!

Send your volunteers a random thank you video for their time and commitment, compile a birthday video from the entire team, or send share a powerful testimonial with a personalized video at the front. Some of the most fulfilling words a volunteer can hear is a donor's story; video can help you make that connection.

Video is an engaging format, and especially after the isolation many have felt during the pandemic, that extra element of human connection can really make a difference in making a volunteer feel appreciated.

Want to really wow your volunteers? Blend multiple strategies from this list over the course of the year! A handwritten card with a gift inside. A video with an invitation to an exclusive experience. Get creative, but make sure volunteers feel just as special as traditional donors.

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Willey

Founder @ Sarah Willey LLC

Sarah Willey is an award-winning fundraising professional with a passion for learning, teaching, and building community. She works as a coach and consultant with nonprofits across the US and Canada to build sustainable individual giving programs and write great communications. A lifelong learner, she holds a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Washington University in St. Louis as well as the CFRE certification and a social media strategist (SMS) certification from the National Institute for Social Media, and is now pursuing a Doctor of Business Administration at the University of Missouri - St. Louis and expects to complete her dissertation in 2023.

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