Volunteers can make a big job seem small, turn a person’s world around and have a tremendous influence on society. Those who are motivated by helping others just for the sake of helping are special people, and showing your gratitude will help them know that they’ve made a difference. Even if they aren’t looking for a reward or pay, people like to feel appreciated. The only thing that really matters when showing your appreciation for volunteers is your sincerity.
Banquets and Food
After all of the hard work is done, you can bet your volunteers will be hungry. Serving a meal to them can be cheap and simple, but will be greatly appreciated. If your budget allows, hire a catering company to cook and deliver the food so you can get the bigger work done. If you can’t afford that, ask some of the recipients of the volunteer work whether they would cook some easy-serve meals to a large crowd. Chili works great and can feed an army. A round of pizzas can go a long way. Serving a large crowd can be challenging, so why not try a barbecue?
Games and Activities
A great way to show your appreciation is to hold a fun event after the volunteers have finished their work. For activities, try fun group games such as charades or karaoke. Organize a softball, kickball or baseball game. If you have a lot of people, set up stations where people can play bingo or shoot hoops. Any activity will work if it allows people to forget about the work or the challenges they might be facing and brings them together for a good time.
Gifts and Awards
An excellent way to highlight the great work of volunteers is by giving them gifts, but you don’t have to shower them lavishly. Good, inexpensive gift ideas might include books, gift certificates, candy, desserts and anything sweet. You might even hire a massage therapist to give short massages. If you’re on a tight budget, a simple, honest letter to let them know how much they’re appreciated will not only be enough but also something they will be likely to remember. You can also create award plaques or other documents with the recipient’s name. Another cheap option is to create a photo slide show of the events and volunteers and give each one a copy of the CD.
If time and money don’t allow big events or celebrations, think about sending a thank-you card or gift basket. Customize the letter to fit your theme and. if you like, enclose a couple of movie passes or a gift card to their favorite sandwich or coffee shop. A great informal way to thank people is by creating a wall of fame. Take pictures of your volunteers and put them on the wall so everyone can see just how important they are.
Currently based in Minneapolis, Minn., Eric Blankenburg has been a freelance journalist since 2000. His articles have appeared in "Outside Missoula, Outside Bozeman," "Hello Chengdu" and online at GoNomad.com and various other websites. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the University of Montana.