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Volunteer Appreciation Done Right

Volunteer Appreciation

Don’t wait for the big annual event to say thanks. We’ve rounded up a bunch of volunteer appreciation ideas that can be used year-round.

by Patty Catalano


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 volunteer appreciation luncheon. Here are some great ways to make your group’s volunteers feel special 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.

Email It

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.

Have you thanked your volunteers lately? We have 30+ tips and more to help you do it right

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 these 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.

Pamper Them

One group created its own homemade bath salts using an online recipe and spice jars purchased at a dollar store. A note was attached that said “Relax and unwind—you deserve it.”

Create a Volunteer Survival Kit

Collect items like a notepad and pen, sticky notes, hand sanitizer, and candy. Place them in a plastic cup or commuter mug along with a note explaining that it's a volunteer survival kit. Blogger Easy Peasy Pleasy created free printables for the gifts that say “PTO Survival Kit” and “PTA Survival Kit.”

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 its 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.

Go Blue

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.

Volunteer Appreciation Tips

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.

Originally posted in 2009 and updated regularly.


# Carley 2009-06-17 01:48
Thank you again for great ideas.
# Sherra Scott 2009-12-16 01:43
One way we show appreciation to our volunteers year-round is to give them a "perk point" for every hour they volunteer. They can then "cash in" those points for various items/services. For instance, one of the things you can cash in for is an adult school breakfast for 3 points, or a lunch for 5 points so you can have a meal with your child at lunch on the PTA.
# Kim Konuch 2009-12-16 03:50
Tonight we had our first annual PTO Christmas Party! It was for volunteers only and was a lot of fun. Everyone brought an appetizer, a drink and a white elephant gift....what a great evening! We hope to make this an annual event to let our volunteers know that we think of them as people too.
# Cynthia 2009-12-29 19:28
I am the volunteer coordinator for my pto. I send Thank You card to the volunteers that I cooridnate. I use a system that makes it as simple as sending an email and the costs are low as well. (Card with postage - $1.06 and all I do is type and click send - the company prints, addresses, stuffs, stamps and mails them for me)
# Tish 2011-10-25 21:28
Thank you for writing such an important post!! To many times at the end of a volunteer project everyone is too exhausted......taking the time to be creative and thank your volunteers is so critical for them and for your cause!! Plus it's so much fun! Love all the creative ideas too...
# disappointed 2013-08-04 18:48
This is the message that our former "Leader" just posted????

"In the past year I’ve had several people throw in my face all that they have done for the rescue Ive run. Like somehow their donating and volunteer work benefited me personally and I should feel indebted to them. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of hours I’ve put in to not only ALA but to other rescues, shelters and charitable organizations, nor the amount of my personal money I have donated throughout the years. But apparently I should have been keeping a tally, and not just for tax purposes but so I can tell the world! So people can think I am amazing, or so I can toss it back at someone when they call me out on my b.s. or I perceive that they are calling me out on my b.s. Clearly that has been my mistake!

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