Going beyond a ball cap when it comes to recognizing volunteers' efforts

Gifts for volunteers

I often see posts on social media about what to give as gifts for volunteers.

Whether the gifts are for reaching a milestone, to celebrate Volunteer Week, or just to say thank you, leaders are often stumped about what to give. They usually default to ball caps, mugs or other organizationally-branded items.

Gifts for volunteers, though, can go so much further – and without a great deal of cost.

Gift certificates

These are one of my favourite gifts for volunteers. There is a ton of flexibility to match the certificate to both the volunteer and the occasion.

If you have a lot of volunteers to thank – say, for Volunteer Week – getting a $5 coffee card from Tim Horton’s or Starbucks is a good option. Many of these larger coffee chains are happy to give you a bunch of them for nothing because they want the traffic. People who come in for a free drink will also purchase a donut or other pastry while they’re there.

Maybe you want to celebrate a volunteer’s 25th year with you but they’re one of those people who “don’t need anything”. Consider getting a gift certificate for a local chain pharmacy or grocery store. It may seem boring but in these times of high inflation and higher prices, it can be one of the most appreciated gifts for volunteers, especially if the volunteer is on a limited budget!. Talk with the manager of the store when you get it. Tell him or her what it’s going to used for. I’ve found a store will often give you a discount.

And everything in between.

Job references

This, obviously, isn’t for everyone. If, however, you have a volunteer who is looking for paid work, having a reference from someone who’s seen their work and their work ethic, can be super helpful for them. Not everyone is comfortable asking for a reference, so be willing to offer if you feel you can give a good one. It’s a great way to say thank you.

Be aware, though, some organizations have rules against this. If yours is one of them, find out what those rules are exactly and why they’re in place. If there isn’t a valid reason for them, advocate to the board to have them changed. If you are struggling with what to say to convince them, let me know and I’ll help.


A number of years ago, I arranged a conference. The keynote speaker, who was from out of town, was very well-known in our sector. One of the “go-to” volunteers working on the conference, Joe, was a massive fan of the speaker. As a thank you for all the time and effort Joe put into the conference, I sent him to the airport to pick up the speaker. I would normally have done that myself. He got two hours of one-on-one time with his hero. Joe still talks about that every time I see him.

Think about experiences you can offer your volunteers. Can you offer them a chance to replace an absent staff member on a training course? Or a ticket to attend a special event. Or the opportunity, like Joe, to meet a famous person?

Experiences provide your volunteers with memories they will cherish far more than they would with a branded tee-shirt.

Gifts for volunteers don’t have to be challenging. Picking thoughtful, useful and welcome gifts for volunteers isn’t hard.

If you have an understanding of the volunteer’s interests, and are willing to think outside the box, you can offer gifts that they will appreciate for years to come.

Have fun.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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