Creative ways to recognize volunteers who help your organization

Creative gifts for volunteers

It’s that time of year again.

Leaders of volunteers are thinking about the upcoming holidays and wondering what gifts to get their beloved volunteers. I wrote about this last year, but this time I wanted to suggest things that are a bit more unusual.

There’s nothing wrong with the old favourites, of course—branded swag, gift certificates or handwritten cards. Sometimes, though, you want something just a little bit different.

I’ve put together ideas for creative gifts for volunteers. Not all of these will work for everyone, and some may take more time than you have right now if you want them for this holiday season, but I can promise you that these gifts will be remembered.

Star naming certificate: Dedicate a star to each volunteer, complete with a certificate commemorating their stellar contributions to the organization.

Time capsule: Create a time capsule filled with photos, notes, and predictions for the future, to be opened by the volunteer on a significant date. This may not work if you have a lot of volunteers, but for smaller organizations, it’s perfect.

Personalized comic book: Work with a local artist to craft a comic book that tells the story of the organization with volunteers in the role of superheroes. This might take some time, but it’s easy to mail and something that you can send to every one of your volunteers.

Virtual escape room experience: Gift volunteers with a virtual escape room challenge, allowing them to enjoy a unique and collaborative adventure from the comfort of their homes. These can be set up for large groups, small groups or even individuals. Some of them are free.

Personalized puzzle: Craft a custom jigsaw puzzle featuring a photo illustrating the impact volunteers have made with the organization. A lot of places that do branded mugs and such will do jigsaw puzzles as well, and a lot of them will give discounts for bulk orders.

Skill-building workshops: Offer workshops or training sessions that align with the volunteers' interests or provide opportunities for personal and professional development. Are any of your staff experts in gourmet cooking, woodworking, or conflict resolution? Ask them if they would put on a workshop.

Exclusive volunteer experiences: Arrange exclusive experiences, like behind-the-scenes tours or special access to events. They don’t have to be major things; a behind-the-scenes tour of the local donut shop would likely be appreciated, especially if there were free samples at the end.

Photo collage or scrapbook: Compile photos and memories into a collage or scrapbook, capturing the volunteer's journey with the organization. Again, this one might not be possible for large organizations with dozens or hundreds of volunteers.

Impact reports: Share personalized impact reports illustrating the specific ways each volunteer has contributed to the organization's success. This one might be best for next year, so that you have time to gather the necessary information.

Plant a tree in their name: Thank volunteers and contribute to environmental sustainability by having a tree planted in honour of each volunteer, providing a lasting and eco-friendly tribute. Everybody loves trees.

As I said, not every one of these will work for all organizations. Remember, the key is not to just have creative gifts. It’s to make those gifts thoughtful and, if possible, aligned with the volunteer's contributions, creating a lasting and positive impression.

If you have any other ideas for creative gifts for volunteers, share them with me and I’ll share them with others. The more ideas the better.

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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