Retaining your Volunteers: 4 Appreciation Ideas

Retaining storytelling volunteers helps build communities. Consider these four appreciation ideas to boost retention.

Retaining your Volunteers: 4 Appreciation Ideas

If your organisation participates in lobbying, you know how critical volunteers are to the success of each campaign. From running events behind the scenes to canvassing to contacting policymakers about your cause, volunteers make every aspect of advocacy possible.

In most cases, it’s more cost effective and less time consuming to retain volunteers over time than to find new ones to support each campaign all over again. Retention also helps volunteers become more engaged with your organisation and form connections with others who share their passion for your cause.

Improving your volunteer retention requires a strategic approach. The key is to show your appreciation for every volunteer who contributes to your campaigns. To boost your retention rates, try the following four appreciation ideas:

  1. Send Personalised Thank-You Notes
  2. Recognise Your Top Volunteers Publicly
  3. Give Extensive Attention To Your Successes
  4. Build a Community of Storytellers

Your appreciation efforts—and therefore, your strategy to boost volunteer retention—will be more successful if they’re backed up by data. Consider using advocacy software not only to streamline your communications with volunteers, but also to track metrics that will help you evaluate and improve your approach. Let’s get started!

1. Send Personalised Thank-You Notes

Personalisation is the key to effective communication between your organisation and volunteers, especially when sending thank-you notes. Receiving a letter containing their name and other personal touches makes supporters feel valued as individuals, making them more likely to want to stay involved with your organisation.

Try these tips to personalise your volunteer thank-you letters:

  • Use the volunteer’s preferred name and pronouns. Make notes in your volunteer database about whether volunteers would rather be addressed formally or informally and what name they prefer to be called.
  • Be specific about each individual’s contributions. To show you’re grateful for each volunteer’s unique efforts, discuss them explicitly in the letter. For example, mention the specific role they played in running a fundraising event or the amount they raised through your peer-to-peer campaign.
  • Include a small gift. Most people enjoy receiving free items, and merchandise branded to your organisation such as t-shirts or keychains gives your volunteers the chance to represent your organisation whenever they use the item.
  • Handwrite the note if possible. Taking the extra time to put pen to paper demonstrates to volunteers that they’re worth the effort for your organisation to retain. If you have too many volunteers to handwrite every note, at least have a board member or someone on your organisation’s leadership team sign the letters.

Organisations that have many volunteers to thank often find it easiest to start with a volunteer thank-you note template. If you choose this strategy, make sure to modify the template to fit your organisation and then personalise it further for each volunteer.

2. Recognise Your Top Volunteers Publicly

While you should show appreciation to every volunteer through personalised thank-you notes, consider showing additional, wider-reaching recognition for those who are most dedicated to your campaigns. Each of your top volunteers might prefer a different method or amount of public recognition, so reach out to them to ask how you could show your appreciation in a way they would find meaningful.

Some options you could propose to publicly recognise your top volunteers include:

  • Mentioning them in your organisation’s annual report. Divide up your volunteers based on the amount of time each person has spent volunteering and put the group of volunteers who have contributed the most hours first in your list.
  • Posting a social media shoutout. Get permission to use the volunteer’s name and photo on your organisation’s social media accounts, and ask for a quote about why they volunteer to include in the post caption.
  • Creating a series of volunteer video testimonials. In each video, have your top volunteers discuss how they’ve volunteered with your organisation and what your cause means to them. Then, use your organisation’s other marketing materials, like your website and email newsletter, to direct supporters to the videos.

Recognising your top volunteers publicly not only shows them that your organisation appreciates their efforts, but it can also inspire other supporters to dedicate more time to your cause, helping you retain even more volunteers.

3. Give Extensive Attention To Your Successes

Few things motivate more than success. And success needs to be celebrated! You probably do that to some extent, but are you aware of its power? And is it being used to its full potential?
When your advocacy volunteers see that their efforts produce results, the motivation to contribute more and for longer to the organisation will grow. But by celebrating successes extensively and publicly, more will happen:

  • It is good publicity: the outside world gets to know your organisation and goals better, and see that you are successful. And, as the generation that grew up in the 1980s knows: if you win, you have friends. Success is a path to wider support and more volunteers.
  • Your organisation as a whole feels empowered. Yes, we can! Belief in each other and in the goals is confirmed.
  • On an individual level, the motivation of your volunteers also grows. They know they are part of an effective organisation. When, as suggested above, you name their specific role in this, they realise how valuable their contribution was.

Of course, it is important to celebrate achieved goals of your organisation. After all, together they are the reason why you do it all. But do not forget to also celebrate individual successes of volunteers. And feel free to think more broadly: an advocacy volunteer reaching retirement age also deserves attention, as does someone graduating and entering the job market for the first time.

Furthermore, think about how and through which channels you celebrate successes. For the organisation's victories, its own website and social media channels are obvious. But do you tag policymakers in a post? And do you know how to find the local press?

4. Build a Community of Storytellers

Grassroots Unwired’s guide to community advocacy explains that the most successful campaigns start with mobilising local communities to take action on issues that matter to them. Participating in local advocacy work can also help build a sense of community among volunteers as they come together around a common cause.

Organisations with many volunteers or volunteers that are spread out across various locations can start building community by encouraging them to connect on social media. Create a simple but meaningful hashtag specific to your volunteer opportunities, such as #[organisation name]volunteers, and remind supporters to use your hashtag when they post photos related to volunteering. Then, volunteers can search the hashtag and reach out to others who use it.

You could also try hosting one or more volunteer appreciation events each year where volunteers can get to know each other. Consider encouraging more experienced volunteers to reach out to first timers to help develop mentoring relationships. Volunteers will feel most valued—and want to continue volunteering—if you offer in-person opportunities to connect with others in addition to online ones


The ideas above are just a few of the many possible ways you could show appreciation to your campaign volunteers. Make sure to track volunteer retention rates as you implement different ideas so you can adjust your approach as needed. You could also ask for feedback from your volunteers themselves to help you show gratitude in the ways that make them feel most valued.

Some highlights of 5 years at Deedmob

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Gerbrand Holland

Growth Manager

Gerbrand Holland is Growth Manager at Deedmob