Volunteers, a precious resource we can’t afford to lose. —Denise Penn

Do your volunteers know how much you appreciate them? They should. Lack of volunteer appreciation is a major reason for high turnover rates among volunteers, and appreciation can be directly tied to retention. Retention is huge for all organizations that heavily rely on volunteers but especially for youth ministry for three reasons:

  1. Cost. Volunteers are free, right? Wrong! Take a moment to consider the amount of time it takes to recruit and train a new volunteer to do the job that a current volunteer is already doing.
  2. Relationships. In youth ministry, our volunteers’ relationships with the youth make the program. We know how detrimental a revolving door of relationships is to a young person. We also know the impact, influence, and stability that long-term relationships provide.
  3. Faith development. The research from the National Study of Youth and Religion and Fuller‘s College Transition Project point out the significance of these relationships to faith development or Sticky Faith.

When you evaluate the cost of losing volunteers, can you afford for volunteer retention to not move up your priority list?
People feel appreciated and are motivated in a variety of ways. Here are some things you can do to show your appreciation, based on the three primary ways people are motivated.
Some folks are competitive and therefore motivated by accomplishments, so you can appreciate these folks by:

  • Keeping them updated on how the program is doing in accomplishing your overall goals and how they are helping.
  • Giving them opportunities to set goals and create innovative ideas
  • Encouraging them to work to succeed or pass a specific goal (e.g., raise $4,000 in a fundraiser)

Others are motivated by social interaction:

  • Volunteer story in the newsletter
  • Recognition in the presence of peers
  • Personal notes and verbal greetings from a leader
  • Cards for special anniversaries, birthdays, etc.

Finally, there are those who are motivated by influence/power:

  • Public recognition (in front of peers)
  • Receiving awards
  • Letters noting their impact on the ministry and in students’ lives
  • Invitation to serve on the Youth Ministry Team

Of course, people overlap into more than one of these groups. I bring these up to remind us that not every form of appreciation works with every personality type. Take time to think about how each of your volunteers might best be acknowledged and appreciated.
The things that are truly a priority in your ministry are the ones on your to-do list. So, if volunteer retention is a priority, then make sure its on your to-do list.
Appreciation can be done in hundreds of different ways. Here are 10 that I’ve found effective. Add your suggestions in the comments section below!

  1. Personal thank you notes (works every time)
  2. Send them a picture of them in action (in a Bible study, on a trip, hanging with students during youth group) with a note reminding them of the impact they are making on teens’ lives
  3. Pay for them to participate in youth activities, retreats, and mission trips. They are making sacrifices to be there. Show your appreciation by not making finances an issue.
  4. Gift card to their favorite coffee shop or restaurant.
  5. Volunteer celebration at youth group. Let the youth show their appreciation by serving the volunteers in some way.
  6. Monthly volunteer spotlight in your newsletter.
  7. Annual ministry celebration dinner that highlights the ways God has been at work in and through your shared ministry.
  8. Give them a certificate. Make one up on your computer as a fun way to recognize their work.
  9. Leave them a voicemail.
  10. Have the youth write them notes of gratitude.