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How to Show Appreciation for Your Volunteers

When it comes to volunteer appreciation, our minds often go to gift cards or thank-you events. But what really makes volunteers feel appreciated are relationships and time.

Volunteering is one of those very tricky things. How do you lead a group of people toward a task, for free?

Sure, there are the philanthropic and spiritual reasons why people sign up…

To fill a need
Because Jesus saved their life
They want to give back

But, as a leader, you feel a certain weight of responsibility. One of the questions I get asked most often, other than “How do I get more Volunteers?” is “How do I appreciate my Volunteers?” It’s a great question to ask. Because, over the course of time, Volunteers will serve for all of the reasons above. But if they don’t feel appreciated by the people they serve under, you may have turnover that you don’t want to deal with.

One thing that can benefit your ministry long-term is when Volunteers stay engaged for extended periods of time, establishing a tenure within your organization and department. But how do you achieve that?

For today, let’s talk about volunteer appreciation.


Volunteer Appreciation Starts with Relationships


Volunteer Appreciation has a little bit of an awkward tone to it. We all try it. For some of us it works, for some of us, it doesn’t. Because we have probably tried it all.

Gift Cards
Appreciation Events (Which are generally poorly attended)
Recognition during the adult service
New flashy T-shirts

And you tend to scratch your head afterward when turnover occurs anyway. “Why did this happen?” We often wonder. The answer may be a little more complicated than you are ready to hear.

The turnover happens because while Volunteers appreciate those little things I mentioned above, they are longing for something more to truly be appreciated. They are longing for relationship. Relationship with you, your leadership team, and their fellow Volunteers.

What would it look like if you flipped your thinking on what it looked like to appreciate them and tried, with all of your heart, to be truly intentional about a relational model. I’m going to hit you with a very difficult question next that may make you a little uncomfortable, but that’s what this is all about right, us getting better?

Do you really know your Volunteers?
Do you have relationship with them?

Furthermore, have you fostered a culture where they can engage with you, your leadership team, and their fellow volunteers that will help them engage and stick around long term? That’s what volunteer relationship should be built on.


Ways to Build Relationships with Volunteers to Show Appreciation


See, when we stop and think about this for a second, we can actually get farther than any of the little things mentioned above can take us. It’s a different way of thinking, but it’s the right one. Doing life alongside the people who you serve with is the most impactful way for Volunteers to be appreciated. They then feel appreciated each and every week, month, and year that they serve. Not just at an event. Or with a gift card.

In your weekly schedule, as you lead Volunteers, you should be having meetings, coffees, appointments, lunches & dinners constantly with these people. If you lead a larger organization of Volunteers, you should have a team of coaches in place with a multi-layered leadership structure where they can interact with their teams in the same way.

Also, you should try planning events where your Volunteers get together — WITH NO AGENDA. For fun, just for them to hang out and engage with each other. No training, no volunteer handbook review, just a time for them to strategically engage with each other. Then the magic happens.

Watch them have coffee with each other after those events — developing bonds.
See them start to build relationships with each others families and children — developing bonds.
Watch them serve like never before, because they show up for each other, and the relationships they have around them.

This is a new concept, and a new thought process, but it works. I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years and I’ll mightily stand by this concept.

Throw in the occasional event and gift card giveaway as you need to. But that is not a strategy. Developing a Volunteer team rooted in relationships is the strategy.

You want them to feel appreciated? — give them your time. Do life with them. It will change the way they Volunteer, show up, and feel a sense of appreciation from your ministry.

Churches wouldn’t be as successful without the volunteers who make all the magic happen. Here are a few gift ideas to show them just how much you appreciate all of their hard work.

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