10 inexpensive ways of celebrating volunteer birthdays

Volunteer recognition

Leaders of volunteers often struggle to find ways of inexpensively celebrating volunteer birthdays or anniversaries.

Here are 10 of my favourite ideas. As a bonus, if you have too many volunteers to celebrate individually, these ideas will work just as well if you group them together by month. Even birthdays are better when more people are involved.

1. Virtual birthday parties

This is a great one for when volunteers are remote. Organizing a virtual birthday celebration is both cost-effective and inclusive. Host a Zoom call or a virtual party where volunteers can join in from the comfort of their homes. You can play online games, share funny stories and collectively sing "Happy Birthday."

2. Recognition on social media

Extend the celebration beyond your organization by showcasing volunteers on social media —with their permission, of course. A simple birthday or anniversary shout-out on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram not only recognizes them but also publicly acknowledges their commitment to your cause.

3. Share volunteer success stories

Take the opportunity to feature volunteer success stories on your organization's website or in your newsletter. Highlighting individual achievements not only celebrates their efforts but also inspires others to get involved. As above, get the volunteer’s permission before posting about them outside the organization. Not everyone wants their name and face all over the internet.

4. Themed potluck lunch

If your organization has a physical location, try celebrating volunteer birthdays by hosting a themed potluck lunch. You provide the cake, and each team member can contribute a dish, creating a festive atmosphere without breaking the bank. Bonding over good food is a great way to build community among the volunteers as well as celebrate together.

5. Handwritten cards

In this age of email and text messages, receiving a piece of mail that isn’t a bill or a flyer is a rare and cherished experience. Bulk purchase or print branded cards and take the time to handwrite a quick thank-you note expressing your gratitude for the volunteer's dedication. If possible, have other staff members or board members also sign it.

6. Exclusive volunteer perks

Offer special perks for the birthday volunteer(s), such as a designated parking spot, exclusive training, or first dibs on new volunteer opportunities. These limited-time privileges not only make them feel appreciated but can also add an element of fun to their volunteering experience.

7. Themed game night

Host a virtual or in-person game night with a birthday theme. Choose games that encourage collaboration and friendly competition. It's a fun and cost-effective way to celebrate while fostering a sense of camaraderie among volunteers.

8. Monthly recognition wall

Create a physical or virtual recognition wall dedicated to celebrating volunteer birthdays each month. Include photos, quotes, and highlights of the birthday volunteers. Set it up so that other volunteers, staff and clients can provide comments or stories to include. At the end of the month, the items can be made into scrapbooks for the birthday volunteers.

9. Have VIPs send emails

This won’t work for everyone, but if you or other staff or board members have a connection with a local celebrity, ask if they will send a note to the birthday volunteer. It’s a fun and memorable way to acknowledge their birthday, and it gives them bragging rights with their friends and family. If you have lots of pull with the celebrity, invite them to drop in on a virtual event for the volunteer(s).

10. Encourage peer-to-peer birthday greetings

Encourage all the staff, other volunteers, clients and board members to send a quick birthday message to the birthday volunteer. It can be as short and basic as a simple “Happy Birthday!” if they don’t know them well, or as elaborate as a story about how the volunteer helped them learn the ropes at the organization. It’s up to the sender.

Celebrating volunteer birthdays doesn’t have to be either expensive or terribly time-consuming. Depending on the number of volunteers involved in your organization, you can provide a fun, community-building experience for individual or groups of volunteers without digging too deeply into your budget, or overwhelming yourself with extra work.

If you have any great ideas I haven’t mentioned, please share them.

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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