This week is all about giving thanks for the things in our lives that we are grateful for. One of the most common things we hear race directors say they’re thankful for is their volunteer base. A race director acts as mastermind and logistician, but the volunteers are the people in the streets executing all of the well-laid plans. They are crucial to the success of an event and the best race directors recognize the need to show volunteers their appreciation. When volunteers feel the love, they do better at their jobs and come back to help year after year.
Depending on your budget, here are 10 ways to thank your volunteers:
- Email. This one may seem obvious, but can get lost in the shuffle of your to-do list. Email volunteers pre- and post-event to provide relevant information about their roles, but also to encourage them and offer your thanks. Send personal emails if it is a handful of volunteers or a mass email with customized names if you have a large group.
- Letter. Remember what paper and pens look like? We barely do, but sending an “old fashioned” thank you card in the mail can go a long way to conveying your sincere gratitude.
- Phone Call. You won’t have time to call all of your volunteers, but pick up the phone to ring your volunteer leaders and thank them. Even if you just leave a message, hearing your voice will make an impression.
- Party. If you have the budget, throw a post-event party for your volunteers. Whether it’s pizza and beer in a park or a catered lunch at a fancy restaurant, this will be a great opportunity for you to show your appreciation and celebrate a job well done.
- Suggestion Box. Asking volunteers for feedback or advice shows them that you respect their opinion and recognize that they are often managing tiny details you may not be aware of. If they can voice their thoughts, they will be more likely to find volunteering a fulfilling experience.
- Social Media. Offering a big thank you to all of your volunteers through a Facebook post is easy, free, and fast. But it is also the most impersonal, so realize that it might not make them feel as special as you’d like.
- Free Stuff. You probably give volunteers event t-shirts. But what about hats? Or socks? Or bags? People love schwag and if you can sweet talk your sponsors into giving some extra gear or supplies for volunteers, you will win their devotion and ensure they’ll be back to help next year.
- Commemorative Items. Give volunteers a custom certificate, plaque or pin that identifies them as a volunteer for your event. This is also a good way to promote your brand.
- Birthday Notes. Set up automated emails to send your volunteers a happy birthday message. This shows thoughtfulness, as well as gives them a gentle reminder of your event and encourages them to volunteer again.
- Video. Get someone to take video footage of your volunteers at their stations during the event (this can be done simply and cheaply on an iPhone if you don’t have a professional videographer). Put together a thank you video set to music that shows your volunteers in action. You can post this to Facebook, put it on your website, email it, etc. Volunteers will appreciate being in the spotlight a bit and you get a chance to get more event exposure if the video goes viral.
Penni Bengtson of Finish Line Productions says it best, “…as much as I demand from my staff and volunteers, I give. We throw a kickoff party for each season and another at the end of it all. Everyone’s invited, from the former Highway Patrol motorcycle officers who ride the refs around, to sponsors, to the ham radio guys doing updates. You have to appreciate people giving up their time. They have to like it as much as the athletes.”
However you decide to thank your volunteers, be sure to use that communication wisely. Insert a call to action for your upcoming volunteer opportunities. (Note: Don’t forget to collect full contact information for your volunteers! Their email, birth date and home address will come in handy when you want to say thanks.)
How do you say thank you to your volunteers? Share you ideas below in the comments.