As spouses, workers, parents, and friends, we know the value of being thanked and appreciated. Appreciation is a natural motivator that helps us keep going.

As parent group leaders, showing appreciation is just the right thing to do. Many of your volunteers spend lots of time away from their families and personal responsibilities to make the school better, and even those who help just a little here and there deserve recognition for their contributions.

Volunteer appreciation is also a vital part of retention and recruitment. Volunteers who feel noticed and appreciated are much more likely not only to keep at it but also to spread the word that your group is worth being a part of. Prioritizing volunteer appreciation is important for your group’s long-term success.

Changing Your Mindset

Maybe you’ve shown appreciation to your volunteers in the past, but have you tended to limit it to a once-a-year event? If so, you’re in good company—but it’s an approach with some downsides. One is that appreciation can lose its personal feel when it’s “stored up” and dispersed to everyone at the same time.

The truth is that appreciation doesn’t need to be formal to be meaningful. In fact, if you hope to increase your focus on appreciation (and the benefits that go along with it), you need to think of it as a yearlong, ongoing effort. If that sounds daunting, you might be thinking too broadly; while a luncheon in the middle of the year is a nice idea if you can pull it off, you’d be surprised at the effectiveness of a sincerely expressed thank-you.

You also want to avoid “leveling” your recognition based on the amount of time different volunteers have spent—for example, offering a nice gift for “top” volunteers but a certificate for those who gave less. While it’s true that some volunteers are able to do more, giving special treatment to a smaller set of volunteers can leave the rest with the impression that your parent group is a clique. All volunteers should be thanked, whether they gave one hour or 100.

It can take some time to adjust your mindset, but once you do, you’ll find that there are many easy ways to show appreciation that will make someone’s day.

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Simple Ways To Say Thank-You

Send a personal note after an event. Little else is as powerful as a few sincere words. Even a quick, heartfelt “Thank you so much for everything. I couldn’t have done it without you” text message to volunteers after your event will inspire them to help again.

Increase your email recognition. Send a weekly email blast detailing all of the volunteers who have helped your group in any way, and mention their specific contributions: “Thanks to Sarah J. for picking up cookies for this week’s meeting!” Copy your school’s principal on the email.

Praise volunteers to each other. Good news travels fast. If you see a member of a certain committee, be sure to let her know how helpful everyone has been—the other committee members will hear about it. As well, make it a point to mention volunteers’ contributions during your meetings.

Get social. Use your group’s Facebook page to let volunteers know that you care. Post fun photos of volunteers in action at different events; it’s fine to tag them as long as you include as many volunteers as you can. Also periodically post graphics that express your appreciation; download our free volunteer appreciation Facebook graphics.

Just say thanks. See a new parent in the pickup line who dropped off some drinks for a teacher lunch? Even if you thanked her at the time, do it again. (And if you don’t remember her precise contribution, that’s OK. Just say, “Thanks so much for helping out.”) Get in the frame of mind that every time you see someone, it’s an impromptu chance to let her know you appreciate her efforts.

Grander Gestures

Make a bulletin board. Recognize your volunteers publicly on a school bulletin board. (If possible, try to designate a space separate from the PTO’s regular bulletin board.) Once you have your board set up, decorate it around a theme, then print coordinating templates to write the name of each parent who volunteers. Another option is to create a bulletin board to display thank-you cards the parent group receives from teachers and students.

Give a card and gift. If your budget will allow it, consider purchasing gift cards for a coffee shop or other local establishment and enclose them in handwritten cards.

Organize a luncheon. Look into getting businesses to sponsor a lunch event, or ask the principal and teachers whether they are willing to contribute.

Put it in print. Ask the yearbook committee about including a “Thank You, PTO Volunteers” page in the school yearbook. Include photos of volunteers working at school events or even just having fun at PTO activities.

Hold a fun award ceremony. Lighten up the traditional ceremony idea with one that recognizes all volunteers in a humorous way—for example, “volunteer who spent the most time in the office” or “volunteer who had the worst job at field day.”


How Parent Groups Say Thanks: Ideas From Our Facebook Community

I get flowers donated from a local grocery store frequently and hand those out to the volunteers. —Christina F.

Teachers organize (with PTA funds) a volunteer breakfast with a small gift for each volunteer in school. —Sarah D.

[The] school social committee does a volunteer breakfast and has the kids come in and sing for us....As PTA, for every 30 minutes you work a PTA event, we put your name in a drawing for spirit items. —Tina C.

I had postcards printed with our logo on the front. We handwrite thank-yous and have teachers put them in the kids’ folders. —Jennifer S.

We nominate a Volunteer of the Month [who] is recognized in our school newsletter and [on the] Student of the Month board. —Niurka M.

There are so many types of cute certificates that are online now...print out and put in a frame and [hold] a small reception. We have two quarterly and one big one at the end of year. [Volunteers] just like the recognition. —Cynthia S.

Originally posted in 2018 and updated regularly.