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Top 3 Theme Ideas for Volunteer Appreciation Week

Is it time to buy those cute banners and balloons for the annual volunteer luncheon? Do you wonder which phrase is better, “Volunteers are Priceless,” or “Volunteers Are Helpers Extraordinaire?” Don’t have unlimited resources for volunteer appreciation but need to decorate the halls with messages of thanks? I’m here to help.

You can scour promotional product websites and find some great posters with nice sayings such as “volunteers, work with heart,” or “volunteers put the care in caring,” or “volunteers, you brighten our day,” but it will cost you. And if you’re a budget conscious volunteer manager, or more likely have only the $13 in change from all the times you were roped into running out to get food for senior management meetings, then you’ve come to the right place.

And anyway. why use old cliché themes to celebrate the volunteers? Why not actually save money and create the kind of honest theme that will really resonate with your volunteers? Here are my top picks for this year’s themes.

Volunteers, Love the Box You’re In! Ask friends and family to give you their old boxes, like shoeboxes, used gift boxes, cardboard shipping boxes, etc. Place them in strategic areas under a banner that reads, “We love our volunteers so much, we are keeping them safe in a pretty box!” Plaster copies of your rules and policies on the walls and play games such as “pin the broken rule on the volunteer.” If you’re lucky and can score an appliance box, decorate the inside and create a photo booth. Take pictures of your volunteers and create memes, adding text quotes such as “It’s cozy and safe inside my organization’s box,” and “the mission needs me to adhere to the rules so I don’t run amok!”

Volunteers are the Plastic Bags of Charity.  Who doesn’t have a thousand of these grocery bags stuffed into a closet? Tape them all over the walls next to a huge sign that proclaims, “Volunteers are for using, like plastic bags-we stuff ’em in a closet and yank ’em out for whatever we need!” You can even fill some plastic bags with leftover garbage and picked up dog poop to scatter about the room for effect. (see, these bags have many uses) Give out the golden plastic bag award for the volunteer who completed the lousiest assignment without complaint.

Volunteers, Thanks For the Time, But It’s About Donations! This one is easy. Buy a pack of construction paper and cut out dollar (or pound sterling) signs and tape them all over the place. Invite the fund-raising arm of your organization to hover around the meeting room and hit up volunteers for money. Instead of reading out stats on volunteer hours given, (pffft, who cares anyway, right?) read out the names of volunteers who haven’t donated money lately. Then, play pass the basket. You might even want to enlist your cousin Dwayne, who is an amateur body builder, to stand at the exit door and look menacing.

No matter what theme you choose, volunteer appreciation week can be a real source of stress and frustration for any leader of volunteers. Do all these sweet messages printed on candy hearts and breast of chicken lunches really convey true appreciation for volunteer contributions? Do you feel the burden of making the volunteers feel valued fall onto your shoulders? You’re not alone.

This week creeps up on every volunteer manager. I know, I used to scramble to make appreciation meaningful. There’s not enough time nor brain power to do the job of the volunteer manager and plan mind-blowing events at the same time.

So, I’d end up relying on silliness, weird dancing and my general refusal to be embarrassed. We always had fun. And sometimes, that can be enough. Fun is a bonding experience.

Please don’t stress yourself too much. (I know, easy to say) Try to have some fun with your volunteers. Try not to wonder if it’s all enough.

And maybe, we, volunteer engagement professionals, will all keep moving collectively towards pushing organizations into strategically recognizing volunteer contributions. As one strong voice, we will keep pulling organizations into the twenty-first century and move them to abandon outmoded ideas on volunteer services so that you don’t have to scramble during this week every year and volunteer appreciation becomes organic. We will keep advocating as a tightly knit body of experience, so that leaders of volunteers are an integral piece of strategy planning and volunteer recognition is woven into all organizations’ grand schemes.

Now, that would be something worth celebrating.