Checklist to Plan a Volunteer Appreciation Event

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My pastor friend is planning a volunteer appreciation event and asked what elements should be considered. Here’s a list if you want to put together an event of your own. Mix or match or pick out key items that fit your church culture.

Theme

Start with a theme. Themes make things fun! Themes are also what people remember. When all the elements tie together, creativity flourishes and the event makes greater impact.

Appreciation events I have been involved in planning have included an international theme, Oscars night theme, beach/tropical island theme, Olympics, and even a Survivor theme. There are tons of ideas out there on the Internet.

Decorations are important, but there’s no need to go over the top. If you have a limited budget, focus on doing something on the stage, decorating the food tables, and centerpieces. Balloons are festive and not too terribly pricey. If you have colored lights on your stage, adjusting the lights to match your branding is a nice touch. (Or you can purchase pretty low cost LED lighting off of Amazon and reuse them at a later time.)

Branding

Along with the theme, create branding that fits the feel of the event. If you’re going for an Oscars night, make it classy. If you’re doing a 50’s sock hop, make it lively. Use the logo everywhere: invitations, materials, slides, banners and centerpieces.

This international themed event used a passport logo for its branding.

Pregame

Think about what happens before the event even starts. For an Oscar night, we had a red carpet outside, lined with staff cheering people as they entered. For the international theme, we gave people passports (in the photo above) and asked people to get signatures of other volunteers for a prize. We closed the doors to the worship center to create anticipation (and to give our team more time to set up!)

When you open the doors, make sure there is music playing. Even better is if the playlist you choose matches the theme!

Big opener

Start the event with a bang. This sets a tone of excitement when there is some kind of grand opening. If you do this event every year, people will learn to not be late. We’ve done big video intros combined with live action elements. For the Olympics theme, we played a video of the pastor carrying the torch around the world (thank you, green screen technology) and ended with him bursting into the room (dressed like the video) with a torch. People jumped to their feet cheering. It was a thrilling moment!

Food

Food is a must! A sit-down dinner is a huge gift to your volunteers. If that will break the bank, try doing appetizers or a dessert table.

The Olympics-themed event featured food stations with food from around the world.

Table activities

This event is a great way for people to get to know each other. We create a large group game with tables competing for prizes. For the international theme, we showed famous sites and had people guess them. They got one point for the landmark and another point if they could name the country.

Slideshow/video

Some of the events we’ve done have had a slideshow or video montage of volunteers. Volunteers sometimes see a limited view of ministry because they only know what they do and what the people around them do. These shows have had an added benefit of expanding people’s understanding of ministry. People have told me, “Wow! I did not know that there were so ministries at our church!” Plus, it is a great way to celebrate behind-the-scenes volunteers that no one ever hears about.

Entertainment

Some events we’ve done have also had outside entertainment, such as a comedian. This can be a significant expense so in recent years I’ve chosen to go with home-grown talent (i.e. staff performance and activities).

Staff performance

The highlight of every event is always the staff performance. We’ve done dances, musicals, and singing. My favorite is taking well-known songs and changing the lyrics to encourage the volunteers (see the videos on the links below).

This is by far the element people remember the most. They feel appreciated and valued that the staff took the effort to practice and put the performance together.

Saddleback Irvine South Volunteer Appreciation Night – photo by Allen Siu 2016-06-02

Staff appreciation

Allow the staff some way to personally thank the volunteers. If you’ve got the capabilities, a video works well, especially if it ties into the theme.

Message from the pastor

A short and heartfelt message from the pastor helps people feel like the pastor cares about them. It’s also a chance to cast vision about building a volunteer culture and to inspire people to invite others alongside in ministry.

Awards

At some events, we’ve passed out awards. This is always a tricky thing, because there are so many outstanding volunteers and we want to award tons of people. One thing that helped was making funny awards. While we shared the behind-the-scenes stories of how that person helped, having a humorous title to the award continued the fun flavor of the event.

Gifts

We always like to have some kind of take-home gift for people. For the international theme, we gave away luggage tags with the logo stamped on the tag. These were a huge hit!

Prayer

Pray for your volunteers and bless them!

Some other important considerations

Depending on the scale of your event and the church culture, these may be items you might want to integrate:

  • Childcare. Most of the time we provide childcare for babies (hired babysitters, so that the volunteers can be in the program).
  • Emcee. The pastor doesn’t have to be the emcee. Pick someone who is good up front and has a fun personality.
  • Tech. Always important if you have a large group!
  • Slides/graphics/invitations. I’ve been at churches that have done paper invitations, and others that have done digital invites. Digital is definitely cheaper!! Match all your materials with your branding.

Links to posts

Here are links to my appreciation event posts. These are only the most recent events. One of these days I’ll have to dig through my years of archives and post the other events!

What ideas have worked for your churches? Please add them to the comments below!

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