Appreciation Ideas…

We haven’t gotten through the holidays yet and yes, my mind is already spinning with ideas for Volunteer Appreciation week (April 21– 27, 2013).  While I like to think that we verbally and non verbally show our volunteers appreciation every day, I enjoy the opportunity to make one week of the year extra special.  But let’s face it, everyone’s budget is lean.  Where do you get the funding for gifts, banquets and fun events?  Well, some of the best events are free and available to you within your organization.  Here are a few ideas of appreciation activities that were successful with our volunteer group or that I hope will be successful in 2013.  (Forgive me, I work in a hospital so the titles of some of the activities may seem geared only for healthcare volunteers.  But that’s not the case!  Any organization can mold the following activities to suit their needs.)

VIP Hospital Tour

We just hosted a “VIP” tour of the off stage areas of our hospital.  Volunteers loved seeing other areas in which volunteers serve, and areas that the public does not get to see.  Meeting staff in each department was a plus and without prompting our entire administrative team was available at the end of the tour and personally thanked the volunteers who attended.  One of our Guest Services team members coordinated the tour as this is something she already does with community groups.  It was a free event that really took no time to organize and the volunteers left feeling appreciated and more connected to not only their volunteer role but the hospital as a whole.  Even if you work in a small organization, host a “tour” of your facility and have staff members talk about their roles and how volunteers assist them.  Staff can make the connection between what they do, how volunteers assist them and the mission.  Ding, ding, ding!  Can we say increased volunteer retention?!

Haunted Hospital Tour

We are saving this idea for next fall, but I can’t tell you how excited I am just thinking about it!  Our security team recently revealed that they have video footage of inanimate objects moving that they can’t quite explain.  This lead to a conversation about the strange things staff have observed and can’t explain.  Spooky!  I plan to ask our security team if they would lead a tour of the hospital that would focus on the areas in which strange things have been seen and to show the strange video clips.  I have a feeling that a haunted tour in October will be a hit!  Does your organization have any ghost stories to share?

Human Bingo

If you’ve never played human bingo at a party or a retreat, search for it on Google.  Templates and sample questions will pop up.  Volunteers played human bingo during the 2012 appreciation week and the competition was shocking!  (If you filled your bingo card you were entered into a prize raffle).  I thought it would be a fun way to pass the time during our open house (more about that later), but it turned in to a great way for volunteers to get to know staff in their departments and throughout the hospital.  Staff got in on the fun as they would help volunteers connect with other staff who could help them complete their bingo sheet.  The activity proved to be a nice break for staff, a great way for volunteers to interact with more staff, a team builder for everyone.

Hospital Quiz

In an effort to test what our volunteers know (or should know) about locations/departments within the hospital, I created a virtual scavenger hunt.  They didn’t physically have to go to all locations, but they could if that would have been helpful or educational.  Volunteers would read a clue and try to figure out what location was being described.  Here’s an example clue:   “Lactation supplies, flowers, gifts and more.  We’ve got everything you might need in this tiny store.” (Did you guess Gift Shop…good job!).  Every volunteer who completed their scavenger hunt correctly was entered into a prize raffle (our prizes were donated by local businesses).

International Service Presentation

Post college and pre career, I served for two years in the Peace Corps.  During 2012 appreciation week I gave a presentation to our volunteers about my experience.  They seemed to really enjoy learning about serving abroad, something they could somewhat identify with since they serve their local community.  I learned that one of our volunteers also served in the Peace Corps and I hope that this year we can do a joint presentation.  Maybe you didn’t serve in the Peace Corps, maybe you like to make cards, or study birds.  Maybe you know the ins and outs of medicare, or like woodworking.  Is there something that you could present on or demonstrate for your volunteers?  You could even turn this into a lunch and learn type event.  Don’t have any skills or knowledge that you think volunteers would be interested in?  What about your co-workers?  What about volunteers themselves?  Or how about friends and family (maybe they owe you a favor you could cash in…)?  Think outside the box!

Environmental Services Open House

A few years ago during Environmental Services week (EVS), our EVS staff allowed our staff to try out their various equipment.  I heard the event was a hoot!  Staff were surprised at how challenging or how simple it was to use some of the EVS equipment.  Do you have a department with “special equipment” that volunteers could take for a test spin?

Eucharistic Ministers Snack & Chat

Our Eucharistic Ministers provide an invaluable service to our Catholic patients and families.  Since this group of volunteers is clearly religious, we played off that emphasis.  We invited our new chaplain to introduce himself at this gathering.  We also invited a local pastor to speak about an appropriate topic.  The time together was an opportunity to talk about successes and challenges after one year of this new volunteer position.  Coffee (donated) and treats (made at home) were brought in for the event.  The volunteers still talk about how enjoyable the event was.  I think we hit the nail on the head by addressing their spiritual needs as well as their volunteer needs.

Open House

Last year we hosted a department open house for the rest of the organization.  Our volunteer room is locked to the general public and the rest of the staff.  Since we are located in a main thoroughfare near the Café, it seemed like an obvious choice to host an open house with treats during the lunch rush.  Our volunteers hosted the room and we had a great turn out.  Showing volunteers that you want them to represent your program is a great way to affirm them and appreciate their role within your organization.  Plus, the staff who stopped by told the volunteers directly how much they were appreciated.  What a great way for volunteers to hear a positive message straight from the staff they serve!

Volunteer Show & Tell

This is an idea that I am toying with for 2013.  If anyone has done something similar, I would love to hear!  I have been thinking about how our staff has so much to offer in a lunch & learn type environment when it dawned on me that our volunteers do too!  I have written previously about how in the interview process I learn so much about volunteer interests and professions.  I get to live vicariously through our volunteers!  Wouldn’t it be great if the staff could too!  An open house or show & tell featuring our volunteers and their interests.  We have volunteers who play pickleball, are into robotics, can knit, collect rocks, play musical instruments, etc.  What if we set up booths where volunteers could demonstrate their talents or talk about their interests?  This type of event, to me, sends the message that while we appreciate all that you do for our organization we also understand that you have interests and passions outside of volunteering.  And, we would love to learn more about those hobbies because we appreciate you, all of you!


So this might sound like a strange appreciation event, but I have found that by hosting a new volunteer orientation during appreciation week you are a.) showing applicants how you appreciate your current volunteers and b.) showing your volunteers that you appreciate them and image of your organization that they present.  In 2012 volunteers were invited to speak (briefly) at our new volunteer orientation about their role within the organization.  Who better to speak about your program than the volunteers themselves?  Volunteers really enjoyed being able to share their story and new volunteers saw that we walked the talk.

I hope this list inspires you to think outside the box and create free or low cost events in house to appreciate your volunteers this spring and throughout the year!


Jennifer Nelson

Volunteer Services Coordinator,  Maple Grove Hospital


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