THE TOOLKIT: Thank You, Volunteers!

The Toolkit brings together resources for creating, managing, and sharing digital collections to address common concerns we often hear, like this one:

How can my organization more successfully engage and sustain a robust volunteer community?

This month, we celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Week by recognizing how vital volunteers are to our Recollection Wisconsin content partners, many of whom rely heavily on their volunteer community to perform a range of activities including digital collections work. While during the pandemic, volunteers may be doing significantly less volunteering, it’s still important that we continue to recognize the crucial work they did before COVID-19 and how valuable their service will be afterward. 

Supporting volunteers can be challenging for any organization so we asked our very wise Recollection Wisconsin content partners to share their most valuable experiences. Their thoughtful advice, compiled in Engaging Volunteers: Tips from Wisconsin Recollection Content Partners, informed our thinking about this topic and how best to present best practices, tips, and tools to help local history organizations more successfully engage and sustain a robust volunteer community.

Volunteers may come to an organization to donate time and experience but it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not what they can do for you that keeps them coming back, it’s what you can do for and with them to foster a positive and meaningful volunteer environment. To that end, here are a few ideas for supporting and recognizing your volunteers.

  • Always be prepared for each volunteer shift. Have a weekly or monthly schedule or a work plan. Make sure that volunteers know exactly what’s expected of them when they walk in the door each day. Have a volunteer check-in and “let’s get started” process.
  • Take time to get to know your volunteers. If possible, match skills and interests to specific projects or tasks. Be flexible and willing to shift volunteers to accommodate changing schedules, and to keep volunteers engaged.
  • Provide opportunities to learn and grow, through continuing education opportunities or participating in special events like conferences or meetings.
  • Be sure your volunteers feel included, appreciated, and part of the larger organization. Personalized nametags or organizational “swag” can help create a more cohesive spirit among the team.
  • Don’t disappear on them! Stay connected and informed about how the volunteer engagement is going, through in-person check-ins, email, or regular meetings. Ask questions. Listen to and value their perspective.
  • Publicly champion your volunteers in blogs and web postings. Share their work successes with your organization’s leadership and larger community. Highlight a specific volunteer or a volunteer-based project each month or quarter.
  • Even a token gift has value as recognition of volunteer contribution. Try to personalize the gift to the volunteer or the work they’ve accomplished for you, for example, give a digital print from a collection they digitized for you.
  • Organize your own volunteer appreciation event – a barbeque, bowling night, coffee and donuts, or a “100 cookies for 100 photos scanned” party – and personally acknowledge volunteer achievements during these events.
  • Create a “Thank you, volunteers” page on your web site and list current and past volunteers, and their milestones.
  • Above all, be kind and respectful in all interactions. Just say “thanks”! A personal, hand-written note acknowledging contributions is always appreciated.

Your volunteers are community ambassadors of your institution. It’s essential their experience is positive. Take a look at Working with Volunteers for our strategies and best practices for working with a volunteer team.

Here are some resources that can help:

See past Toolkits at

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