This is How to Write the Perfect Volunteer Thank You Letter
Volunteer coordinators are always looking for the perfect way to say thank you to their volunteers. We’re on a constant search to adequately express our gratitude, so we turn to thanking volunteers through special gifts, plaques, or recognition dinners. But what if I told you that the absolute best way to show appreciation is through a heartfelt volunteer thank you letter?
You know the volunteers at your organization serve because they want to have a hand in changing the world. They believe your mission will bring about that change, and they want to experience it in whatever big or small way they can. Sometimes, in our search for adequate appreciation, we neglect to remember our volunteer’s motives in the first place.
The Volunteer Appreciation Disconnect
So why do we acknowledge world-changing effort with a fancy dinner? There’s nothing wrong with a nice dinner and presentation of awards, but there’s a bit of a disconnect between what motivates volunteers (passion, values, purpose) and what we traditionally offer as recognition for that effort (t-shirts, trophies).
There’s one quick and easy way you can bridge that volunteer appreciation disconnect – the meaningful volunteer thank you letter. You don’t need to ditch the formal recognition (it’s fun in its own way too, right?). But the proven way to connect your gratitude with what motivates your volunteers is to give them an experience that shows them their impact.
Here’s Why This is More Important than How Busy You Are:
Your busy schedule and “ginormous” to-do list may make this seem like wishful thinking, but here are some reasons why carving out time to write a volunteer thank you letter is important:
- Most volunteers understand how busy you are, and knowing that you take time to personally thank them will make them feel valuable.
- Getting an actual card in the mail from an actual person is rare.
- Volunteers will appreciate your efficient use of resources. Many volunteers don’t want nonprofits to spend limited resources on plaques, pins, or snail mail campaigns.
- Day made! For some, this card will put a smile on their face their entire day.
- This effort on your part will lead to increased volunteer retention.
So this year, take the time you would have used scouring trophy catalogs and, instead, craft a truly special volunteer thank you letter.
6 Characteristics of the Perfect Volunteer Thank You Letter
1. Make your letter personal and acknowledge their personal sacrifice
This may seem super obvious but address your thank you letter or note using the volunteer’s name. Tell them specifically what you’ve noticed or what they did that went above and beyond. “Thanks for your time and commitment” is fine. “Thank you for staying late to scoop out 15 extra dog kennels,” says you know their time is valuable, and you noticed they gave it to your organization.
This could also be an opportunity to mention ways they’ve contributed in the past. Has this volunteer been with you for a long time? Have they served in other capacities? Are they a donor? You don’t have to write them a laundry list of their accomplishments, but thinking about their history with your organization and noting it when appropriate makes your note even more personal. This lets the volunteer know you really see their worth.
2. Make your letter specific
Point to something a volunteer did, or the way they made someone feel, and say thank you specifically for that. Typically, you’d look for ways a volunteer goes above and beyond their role.
It also could be a place where you see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Maybe the “above and beyond” for your volunteer is that you know you can always count on them. For example, “Tammy, you come to the shelter every week and quietly take care of the checklist of tasks. I saw you come in today, and it just struck me that I don’t know how we’d get through a week without your kind and consistent service.”
3. Connect your letter to the mission
Remember, volunteers are with you because they want to advance your mission with their own two hands. They really care about your work. When you communicate your gratitude, connect it to the mission in order to underscore the impact of their work.
They chose you and your organization for a reason. Remind them regularly that they chose well because they are making a difference with their work.
“It may seem like washing towels and cleaning the dogs’ toys are just busy work. But because you give your time to do these tasks, the rescue team was able to bring in five new dogs just last week. They can do that because they know you’re here to keep the kennels clean and safe.”
4. Make your letter timely
This is as much for you as it is for your volunteer. When you see or hear something you want to recognize, do it. Right away! This way you won’t forget, and the experience is still fresh in the mind of the volunteer. Plus, the more quickly you acknowledge a positive experience, the sooner you reap the positive benefits from a happy, heart-warmed volunteer.
5. Be Vulnerable
This is easier for some than others but find a way to show how the volunteer’s actions or presence made you feel. You’re their person! Their leader! Let them know you are personally impacted by their time – you are proud of how much they’ve given to the organization.
“Kelly, we had been searching for someone with your sills for so long! Your work on our database has eased our whole intake process and the whole team is beyond grateful. Even more, I know how important it was for you to find a cause where you could really invest your skills, and I am personally so thankful that we connected. My work just got 10x easier, and I have you to thank for it. We are going to save so many more dogs now!”
6. Sign your name
Again, this might go without saying, but put pen to paper and sign your volunteer thank you letter. If you’re sending your note via email, still make sure to include a personal closing.
Bonus points if you can get a recipient of your organization’s services, a board member or other high-ranking member of your team to write a note.
Make Writing Your Letter So Easy You Can’t Say No
To keep volunteer appreciation manageable, keep it simple and create a habit. If you can’t manage it every day, simply jot down 3-5 people you want to send a note to each week. You can also send volunteer thank you letters to spouses, partners, bosses, and kids for supporting the volunteer in their community work.
To keep track of specifics about volunteers and their accomplishments, consider using your datebook, smartphone notes, or an online system like Evernote. You never know when that moment of gratitude will strike.
To make your life easy, put together a gratitude kit of the basic tools. Keep it at your work space, so you are ready to go at any time. Stock it with:
- Cards and Envelopes: Buy thank you notes in bulk when they are on sale, print some that have your organization’s info on them, or have your service beneficiaries make some by hand.
- Postage Stamps: Just ask for a pack of 20 from your bookkeeper or administration and keep them at your desk.
- Return Address Labels: Use a ready-made office stamp, or print out several sheets to have on hand using an easy label template.
- Your Volunteers’ Contact Info: Make sure it’s within easy reach.
Volunteer Appreciation Can Be Simple and Beneficial
Volunteers may appreciate a special token of your organization’s gratitude, but the experience of receiving a personal and heartfelt volunteer thank you letter will remind them why they are doing what they are doing. They are driven to help your organization and your community, without pay, because by doing so, they can bring about improvements that matter in society.
You don’t have to ditch the traditional volunteer acknowledgment goodies. People do love free t-shirts. Just remember that the most powerful acknowledgments require nothing but a quick note or email that is personal, specific and thoughtful.
AND don’t be surprised when the warm fuzzies strike you as you sit down to do this. Research has shown expressing gratitude on a regular basis can increase positive emotions, reduce the risk of depression, and increase our resilience under stress. Plus, you will deepen your relationships, which can make your volunteer team more productive.
Lead by example — you can cultivate an environment of gratitude that can spread throughout your volunteer team and into your organization by showing everyone how it’s done.