Don’t wait for the big annual event to say thanks. We've rounded up a bunch of simple recognition and appreciation ideas that can be used year-round.
How does your group treat its volunteers? Taking the time to properly thank members for their contributions can motivate them to do even more great work for your school. But saying thanks and recognizing your dedicated helpers for their time and talents should go beyond an end-of-year appreciation luncheon. Here are some great ways to make your group’s volunteers feel special and appreciated throughout the whole year.
Make Them Stars
At its spring fair, the Valley Forge Elementary PTO in Wayne, Pa., gave some 400 volunteers the star treatment: Their names were placed on cardboard stars and added to a huge display in the café area.
Incorporate a weekly email blast detailing all of the volunteers who have helped your group in any way and their specific contributions. (A couple of suggested titles: High-Five Friday, Wednesday Wonders.) Be sure to copy your school’s principal on the email.
Let the Family Know
Write a letter to your volunteer’s family letting them know how much that person’s work is appreciated, and thank the family for supporting her efforts.
Hold an Awards Night
One parent group holds an annual GEM (“go the extra mile”) Awards night to honor parent volunteers and supporters from the business community. School faculty and staff members are given nomination forms and nominate up to 10 people or organizations to be recognized. The parent and community partners with the most nominations are named Parent of the Year and Partner of the Year, respectively. All nominees receive a certificate of recognition; the two top honorees are given plaques and gifts. The group receives about 60 nominations each year.
Sleep on It
At the end of fundraising season, one PTO’s leaders hold a slumber party (sans kids!) at a local hotel. Members reflect on the past year’s successes and how they have affected staff, students, and families. Each board member pays her own way for dinner, and they split the cost of the (adjoining) rooms.
Ride in Style
Ask a local limousine service to donate a car or two for your next family fun gathering. Arrange for pickup and drop-off of the night’s key volunteers and their children.
Give Them the Night Off
One parent group in New Jersey coordinated with the superintendent, local scout and club leaders, and coaches in town to schedule a “night off” for the community. Families got a break from obligations such as PTO meetings, homework, and athletic practices so they could enjoy dinner and an unhurried evening together at home.
Add It Up
Tally the annual number of hours your volunteers give to the school and calculate what their salaries would be if they were paid. Ask your principal which programs or services she’d have to cut if she could not count on PTO volunteers. Include this factoid on your website and in the newsletter; it will send a powerful message to parents about your group’s work.
Stick to Them
Invite students to create decorative name badges for your volunteers; consider giving out special stickers to students whose parents help out at an event, too.
One group created their own homemade bath salts using a recipe from the Internet and spice jars purchased at a dollar store. A note was attached that said “Relax and unwind—you deserve it.”
Sing Their Praises
Ask the school’s music director to work with students to compose and record a fun song about the school’s volunteers. Give a copy of the recording to each member of your PTO.
Let the Banner Wave
Display a “We Love Our Volunteers” banner in a public place; take the time to reinforce this message at all of your events, too.
Help Them Learn
Create a professional development budget for your volunteers to assist with all or part of registration costs for continuing education classes, leadership programs, or specialized training classes. Look for classes or conferences to help your volunteers perform more effectively in their current roles or to assume roles of greater leadership.
Let Them Know They’re “Fan”-tastic
Arrange for a special volunteer to do the coin toss, deliver the first pitch, or announce the players at your town’s next big game.
Share Their Day
Find birthday information for all volunteers. (Hint: Ask for it on your volunteer survey forms, or ask their students at school). Have the principal announce each volunteer’s special day over the school’s intercom, or display a birthday greeting on the school sign.
Hang Them Up
Parent leaders at Kingsley Charter School in Dunwoody, Ga., honor each family that meets the “Charter Challenge,” a required 32 hours of volunteer service during the school year. Each family is individually recognized at a parent appreciation night and has their name and total number of volunteer hours engraved on a plaque that is hung at school. Families are also given a special car magnet to publicly recognize their contribution.
Shower Them With Thanks
Students and teachers at Frank Layden Elementary in Frontenac, Kan., wrote thank-you cards to their PTO; they then filled a water cooler with the notes and dumped them onto the volunteers at an assembly.
If your school has recently acquired an award or special distinction (such as being named a Blue Ribbon School), be sure your PTO receives some of the deserved credit. For example, help celebrate the success with blue ribbons for volunteers or blue T-shirts with your PTO’s logo.
Be personal. Avoid the generic “thanks to everyone who helped.” Say it face to face, and also announce or publish each person’s name and specific contribution.
Be timely. Thank volunteers when they help out. Don’t wait until the end of the year to show your thanks.
Be comprehensive. Include every volunteer in your appreciation activities, whether they’ve given your group an hour or a lifetime.
Be reasonable. Spending half the annual budget on volunteer appreciation is bound to raise a few eyebrows. Your group can carry out a terrific recognition plan with a modest budget and a little creativity.