6 ways to recognize volunteers during a pandemic this National Volunteer Week

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown everyone a curveball of some kind this past year. And, National Volunteer Week is no exception. Many communities are struggling with how to pivot volunteer recognition and engagement for safety and social distancing purposes.

But! There are many ways communities can still recognize volunteers in their communities during National Volunteer Week and year-round while staying safe and adhering to current health measures in place.

To help you get inspired for National Volunteer Week 2021, we’ve compiled six ways communities celebrated in 2020 and other innovative ways you can recognize and celebrate volunteers this April.

1. Volunteer recognition items and gift baskets

In 2020, many communities created gift baskets with different kinds of volunteer recognition items and delivered them to volunteers’ homes to say thank you. Here are some things they included:

  • Discounts, coupons, or gift certificates to local stores to support the local economy.
  • Pamphlets, brochures or information guides that listed ways volunteers can help the community, including informal and formal volunteer opportunities.
  • Personalized or branded hand sanitizer and masks – things that volunteers can use in their day-to-day lives or would need for volunteering.

But, you can include anything in your gift basket you think your volunteers would appreciate!

2. Online storytelling and paid promotion

You can recognize volunteers by sharing the impact of their contribution to your organization and community. For example, organizations in 2020 promoted their volunteers by:

  • Telling volunteer impact stories on their social media and websites. Some even paid to promote their volunteer stories through social media too.
  • Broadcasting their volunteer stories on the local radio and newspapers. Many media outlets or advertisers offer discounts to nonprofits, so be sure to find savings where you can!
  • Creating a ‘thank-you’ video featuring prominent figures in your community, such as government officials like the mayor or town councillors.

3. Virtual gatherings and recognition

With in-person events being limited due to the pandemic, you can always opt for virtual gatherings or virtual forms of recognition. Here are some ways communities celebrated last year and what you can do this year:

  • Create a virtual online event by using platforms like Zoom or Google Meet to gather volunteers together. For your online event, you can distribute awards, play games, tell stories and more.
  • Call volunteers or create personalized emails and texts to thank volunteers for their service.
  • Create or find online learning opportunities to help volunteers learn or grow their skill-sets in between volunteer gigs.

4. Public displays in your community

You can show volunteers you appreciate them in a big way by creating public displays in your community. Some ideas for public displays include:

  • Dedicating a park bench to volunteers.
  • Creating and raising a flag to honour volunteers in your community.
  • Design and advertise a billboard for April. (Many advertisers offer discounted advertising for nonprofits!)
  • Start a mural and encourage community members to drop by and add to it. Whether it’s painting something or bringing a poster they made to add to the mural. You can keep it socially distanced and adhere to health measures in place.

5. Volunteer recognition program or contest

Open volunteer awards/nominations to the community and have residents send in volunteer stories. Start a contest and get residents to nominate volunteers in the community to win bigger prize packages.

Use your volunteer nomination process as an opportunity to collect volunteer stories to share publicly. This could include sharing stories online, in newspapers and the radio, or even posters or flyers around town. Just be sure to have an option for people to give consent for their story publicly.

6. Encourage your entire community to get involved

Get creative and get the entire community involved! For example:

  • Encourage residents to do random acts of kindness for a volunteer they know. Then get them to share their experience online. Create a specific hashtag for them to use so you can track the stories as they come in.
  • Create or find and print volunteer-themed colouring pages for children in your community.
  • Encourage residents to put signs in their windows that say, “I volunteer at [organization name].”

No matter how you decide to recognize volunteers in your community this National Volunteer Week, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try something your organization has never done before! And most importantly, stay safe and have fun!

Looking for financial support to celebrate your volunteers? Apply for National Volunteer Week Enhancement Funding! Applications close Monday, March 8th, 2021. Funding is provided by the Government of Alberta and distributed by Volunteer Alberta.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta