15 Tips For Planning a Volunteer Appreciation Event

Planning events to thank and show appreciation to volunteers can be fun and rewarding.

The trick is to be organized in the planning and strategic in the delivery.

Whether you are planning a training event, an appreciation dinner, new volunteer orientation or a volunteer recruitment fair – the planning model should be the same and include the same basic elements.

15 Tips For Planning a Volunteer Appreciation Event

1. Establish a Planning Team

Successful event planning includes identifying a team of people who can help with all of the logistical aspects of the event.

Having at least four or five people to share the responsibility makes the planning and execution of the event easier and more manageable.

When selecting team members, look for people who not only have a passion for the event but also people who can help to add a creative flare to the event.

Creative people think of the small details that can help take an event from ordinary to extraordinary – so try to capture those creative juices and take advantage of them!

2. Create an Event Budget

It is really important to begin any planning with an event budget.  Make sure someone authorizes spending for the event and allocates budget dollars.

Plan it on a cost per person model which will help you to keep costs under control.

For example, if the budget allows for $10 per person, the team needs to determine how that $10 will be divided amongst all of the planning elements of food, marketing, decor, AV support, gift etc.

One model budget might look like this:

Budget Cost Per Person
Food $4
Marketing $1
Decorations $1
AV Support $1
Gift $2
Miscellaneous $1
Total $10

3.  Establish a Goal for the Event

The first thing a planning team needs to determine is what the goal of the event is.

Is it to show appreciation, educate, sell an opportunity or encourage volunteers?

Whatever the focus, it is important to have a clearly stated goal for the planning committee that is considered throughout the entire process.  Keeping an end goal in mind will help to dictate activities and agendas to meet the goal requirements.

4. Identify the Event Theme

Every event should have a theme.  A well thought out theme will help to determine the creative elements of the event.

For example, if the theme is Summer Fun, the creative elements may be things that are associated with summer.

Things like ice cream, BBQ, Corn on the Cob, etc.  The theme also influences any graphics and decor for the event.   In the example of summer fun, graphics may include ice cream cones, sunglasses, chaise lounges, etc.

The creative graphics will help to get people excited about participating in the event.

5. Create Marketing Materials/Handouts

Whether you are planning a training event, an appreciation dinner, new volunteer orientation or a volunteer recruitment fair – the planning model should be the same and include the same basic elements.Once the theme is determined you can incorporate graphic descriptive of the theme into any printed materials.

Things like fliers, banners, invitations are all things that the theme would naturally flow through.

It is important to have a marketing plan for how to communicate that the event is happening as well as how to get people interested in attending.

6. Plan Food and Beverages

People are naturally drawn to food so incorporating food and beverages into an event is important.

The food menu should reinforce the theme in not only the food selection but also in the paper products and decorative elements of the food presentation.

7. Organize Decorations

Events seem more fun when there are decorations that reinforce the theme.

The decor can be incorporated into how tables are decorated, how the food is displayed or how a room is arranged.

It doesn’t really matter, it just matters that a creative element is used for the event.

Tablecloths, centerpieces as well as other decorations are part of this process that can help to set the tone for the event.

8. Attendance List

Any event that involves food should require an RSVP process so you can safely predict the number of people who will be in attendance and how much food and drink will be needed. Asking for people to RSVP and keeping an attendance list can help with this.

Use the marketing materials to give instruction for how guests will RSVP.

Use a sign-in sheet so you can keep track of who attended the event for your records.  This will also serve as a comparison for who said they were or were not attending.

9. Select Theme Based Music

Background music sets the mood for an event so it is important to select music that communicates the feel for the event.  Upbeat music gets people excited and engaged while slower music is more relaxing and subtle.

Take some time to determine the tone and feel you would like the event to have.

10. Identify Audio/Video Support

Most events have some sort of speaker element and require audio/video support.

Whether it is someone welcoming the guests or a video thank you – planning for that AV support is important.  It is also critical to test all equipment before guests arrive to ensure it is working properly.

The last thing you want is a red faced presenter who couldn’t get the mic to work.

11.  Create an Event Agenda

Every event should have an agenda that includes set-up times, event activity times, speaker times, event closing and clean up.  An agenda might look like this:

Summer Fun Event Agenda
8:00 – 11:00 am Food Preparation
10:00 – 12:00 pm Set-up/Decorations
12:00 pm Welcome
12:10 pm First Speaker
12:45 pm Lunch
1:30 pm Awards
1:50 pm Closing Remarks
2:00 pm Dismissal
2:30 – 4:00 pm Clean-up

12. Choose Thank You Gift

Sometimes it’s appropriate to include a thank you gift in the event.  This would be for special occasions such as an appreciation event.

In this case it is important to have budget dollars for the gift and ample time to select and order a gift to ensure it arrives on time with a little added time for wrapping.  Make sure you include the cost of wrapping the gift in the gift budget.

13. Schedule Set-Up/Clean-up

Every event requires a team to set it up and a team to tear it down and clean up afterwords. The trick is recruiting enough people to help so that it does not fall on the shoulders of just one person.

There is nothing more discouraging that one single person trying to clean up after an event long after everyone has gone home.

Try to recruit a team to help with this and always, always have some upbeat music playing in the background to help keep energy levels up.

14. Order Event Supplies

The planning team should determine what kinds of supplies will be needed and to assign someone to make sure they are available.  Things like name tags, pens, markers, stapler, flip charts, white boards, etc. are all examples of possible supplies.

15. Thank Planning Team

It is always appreciated when a team that works hard to make a great event happen gets a little thank you.  Send an email or note to everyone on the planning committee just thanking them for their time commitment and the effort they put forth to make the event happen.

There is so much work behind the scenes of an event and the planning team does it because they love to but everyone appreciates being thanked for their hard work.

Volunteer appreciation events are lots of fun to host but the trick to successful events is a great team that plans a lot of detail and is able to facilitate all of the planning elements into a great event!

photo by:  SusanFernandez

Article originally posted August, 2012, update, August, 2015.


  1. PastorMason says

    Excellent Article! We do a Volunteer Appreciation Dinner at the end of the year in early December every year. Since it’s at Christmas time, the event has a themed look, but technically doesn’t have a theme. I will be thinking more about trying to add a theme now.

    One problem I do hit is finding volunteers to help clean up that aren’t already attending the dinner. I hate asking volunteers to help clean up their own thank you dinner. Any creative ideas on that?

    BTW Great site! I signed up for your newsletter.

    • Patricia says

      Yes the clean-up seems to always be a challenge after events like this. We have developed “teams” that specialize in different areas and the youth often are a great resource for set-up and clean-up teams. The trick is to have a great leader that makes the work of it “fun” and more like a party than work. We have lots of huge events at our church and fortunately the long-term volunteers see the need and just naturally help afterwards. Thanks for the kind words and signing up for the newsletter!

  2. Jim Botomani Mbewe says

    I have been looking for information about volunteer management for a long time but this article has just given me more than I thought i would get

  3. Shirley Buffalocalf says

    I am new at coordinating an event such as the Volunteer Appreciation Function. I have a better idea as to what the expectation is on my behalf once I head the 15 Tips For Planning a Volunteer Appreciation Event. Thank you so very much…

  4. Carol Ann says

    RE: challenges for clean-up crew: 1) We have used members of the youth group and we PAY THEM in the form of a donation toward their annual retreat.
    2) We have also used the young women who are living in a house our congregation owns while they do a year of service with local non-profits. Their “payment” is the yummy leftover food (and occasionally, wine) from the party. This is a win-win because we don’t have dribs and drabs of stuff left in the church’s refrigerator and they have more interesting dinners than their meager budgets usually allow.
    3) On one occasion, we did a trade with another congregation; they catered our celebration and we catered theirs.

    • says

      Hi Carol! Those are great tips! I especially love your creative way of keeping the refrigerator cleaned out! Thanks for sharing your ideas!


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