Freebies & Thank You Gifts

Making sure someone feels thanked for what they’ve done for you or your organization is extremely important. As a long time volunteer, I know the importance of feeling valued. If one feels taken for granted, over-used, or under-appreciated, eventually that volunteer will walk away and find another organization that will show they (and their time and talents) are valued.

Over the last twenty years, I’ve been a church volunteer, a museum volunteer, a school district volunteer, a school building – classroom volunteer in two separate buildings, a community volunteer, a band volunteer, and a master gardener volunteer. Some of my volunteer roles have crossed over from one organization to another but it really comes down to the same thing – the sharing of my time and talent. Feeling appreciated is extremely important, especially when I was giving hundreds to thousands of hours each year to different local organizations. In fact, I only stopped volunteering when I did not feel valued any more.

Lately, I’ve thought about this because I received recent thank you gifts for voluntarily helping two organizations. The thank you gifts were unexpected and not something that was advertised that I would receive in exchange for volunteering. The unexpectedness definitely added to the joy of receiving the gifts.

One was a gift from a poetry contest I entered last spring. It is a magazine from the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, called Wisconsin People and Ideas, issue 67(4). The magazine contains the winners of a poetry contest I entered last spring. Although I did not “win” the contest organizers sent a copy of the magazine to those who submitted poetry for the contest. I was pleased to receive this unexpected gift that also contains the winning entries.

The other gift I received was from the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. I volunteered for Monarch Habitat Monitoring this year through them and two other organizations – the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Monarch Joint Venture. The gift was a one-year membership to the Foundation. This allows me priority when signing up for field trips offered through the Foundation in the coming year. Their field trips are a hot commodity and organized well, being offered all over the state. I was thrilled to be offered this thank you gift by their grant coordinator – someone who actually assisted me in securing a grant when I worked for a local land trust.

Over the years, there have been other “freebies.” These include bookmarks from Monarch Watch, buttons from editors of poetry books, and beads or candy (strange) with a bead order, I’ve also given thank you gifts, such as books on writing to students in my enrichment groups or seeds and certificates to those in my garden club groups. A set of my photo cards were always a big hit with the teachers who helped me with writer’s circle or garden club. And, I produced a set of photo magnets for those who led or hosted an event for the land trust when I worked there.

When I interviewed for the land trust job, they asked me how I would thank the many volunteers that make their organization work. They let me know immediately that I had missed the mark when I did not answer “sending a thank you note” and “giving a one year free memberships with their newsletters.” Of course, I had different ideas that I shared from my own volunteer experience. One was to offer a volunteer breakfast, hosted by the organization. This was an idea I stole from the elementary school my boys attended. Each spring a volunteer breakfast was organized, cooked, and served by the teachers and administration. It was a nice touch because it took time and was from the whole organization, not just one person. I still think that is a nice way to thank volunteers. Of course, being a good employee for the land trust, I also write thank you notes, but I started to include the magnets I had ordered, as an additional touch.

Gratitude should be personalized. And, if a whole organization is thanking volunteers, it should symbolize gratitude from all. So whether it is a thank you note, a gift, a membership, a book, or a breakfast – be sure to thank your volunteers. It really means everything.

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