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Thanking volunteers

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Don't forget to say thanks

It’s easy to forget to say thank you, especially in a very hierarchical organisation or when things are busy.

Because volunteers aren't paid, it's vital to thank them. Take time to do this well, in person or in writing. This is even more important if they have been volunteering with you for a while.

When to say thanks

You don’t always need a reason to thank your volunteers. In fact, it's often unexpected thanks that have the most impact.

On certain occasions, your volunteers might expect a thank you. Here are some examples.

  • On the anniversary of a volunteer's start date
  • If your charity has an annual report or promotional material, either in print or online
  • When a project involving volunteers has had positive media coverage
  • On a day that is relevant to your charity's mission, such as Mother's or Father's Day if you support family wellbeing
  • During Volunteers' Week (1-7 June) or on International Volunteer Day (5 December)

If you're singling out a volunteer for their efforts, be careful not to create a sense of 'winners and losers'. This can demotivate your other volunteers, especially if some need more support than others. It’s often better to thank and celebrate the whole team or parts of the team who volunteer together.

How to say thanks

How you decide to thank your volunteers is as important as the decision to thank them at all.

It depends on how many volunteers you have, where they are and your charity's culture.

It also depends on the volunteer. Some might find a public thank you, such as at an event, more meaningful. Others might prefer a private email or phone call.

Our Time Well Spent on experiences of volunteering in England tells us that two of the most popular reasons for volunteering are:

  • wanting to help people
  • to support a cause that’s important to you.

So a great way to thank volunteers could be by showing them the difference they’re making. This could take the form of things like:

  • giving thank you cards featuring quotes from service users or beneficiaries
  • celebrating feedback received about volunteers
  • sharing data collected on the impact of volunteers
  • marking milestones reached in communications with volunteers, for example: “This week, our volunteers made a difference to 25 people!”.

Giving gifts

Words are often the best and simplest way to show thanks, and showing your appreciation on a day-to-day basis may mean more to your volunteers than receiving gifts. You could do this by:

  • providing refreshments and snacks
  • sharing the impact your volunteers are having
  • celebrating your volunteers on social media (with their permission).

But on some occasions, like the departure of a long-term volunteer, you may want to give a gift. Volunteers committed to your cause are unlikely to want generous or lavish gifts. Inexpensive merchandise, like certificates, mugs, t-shirts or other fundraising items, are often better.

Some organisations may have a small amount of budget for the items mentioned. If not, you could ask for donations from colleagues if the gift is to mark a significant milestone. Check your organisation’s policy on giving and receiving gifts and use of charity funds.

Be mindful of your charity's legal and financial relationship with its volunteers. It's safer to avoid valuable gifts or offering gifts on a regular basis. Doing so could suggest a contract with your volunteers. This can blur the lines between volunteers and employees.

It's also important not to give gifts volunteers could make financial gains from. Money, vouchers or gifts that will grow in value may affect volunteers' benefit claims or tax.

NCVO members can access guidance on volunteers and the law to learn more about volunteers and employment rights.

Last reviewed: 12 April 2021

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 12 April 2021

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