8 Thoughtful Ways Associations Can Start

Thank You

Do you know how powerful a “thank you” can be? Research shows we undervalue the impact of expressing appreciation and, as a result, don’t show enough gratitude. However, the article notes that “being seen, heard, acknowledged, and appreciated are basic human needs. A simple thank you can go a long way toward making employees and colleagues feel valued—and valuable.” Gratitude is an important aspect of association leadership. And on this same note, member appreciation efforts can have a big impact on engagement and retention. Establishing a culture of gratitude can positively impact your entire organization.

Here are eight things you can do to show sincere appreciation to association members, sponsors, employees, and, lest we forget, volunteers.

 1. Say “Thank You” Often

Take the time to say “thank you” in member correspondence, meetings, and especially around the office. Hearing a “thank you” and seeing sincere appreciation being expressed regularly is an infectious way to create a culture of gratitude.

One way to ensure your words of thanks come across as honest and heartfelt, is to use specific examples about why you appreciate someone and try to avoid blanket statements like “all you do.” Instead, share the effect or impression that their action made on you.

When establishing a “Thank You” culture, single people out whenever possible. While sometimes necessary, a group appreciation acknowledgment can lose some of the impact that a one-on-one can deliver.

2. Schedule “Appreciation Planning” Meetings During the Year

Association employees should take the time to be “thoughtfully collaborative” in determining ways to show appreciation. Share stories of memorable appreciation gestures you’ve seen or experienced that affected you. Write all the ideas down and determine a budget to make it happen.

The recognition efforts don’t have to be high-dollar; a certificate, a handwritten thank you card, a lapel pin included during the registration at an event, etc. can make a huge impression on someone. Small tokens of appreciation can have a significant influence on the member experience.

 3. Segment Your Membership List

Segment the membership list into lengths of time as a member or by another classification that makes sense for your specific association. For example, you could segment members into three categories:

  • Member for four years or less
  • Five- to nine-year members
  • Ten years or more members
  • Volunteers

During your Appreciation Planning meetings, tactically discuss what displays of appreciation each segment should receive. Few, if any, associations have an abundance of time and resources, so be sure to allot ample time to craft and produce your appreciation campaign. Establish the gift-level dollar amount at the appreciation meeting and what gifts you may have in inventory. Having all association employees contribute and know the recognition levels adds to the appreciation culture you are trying to build.

If your membership software tracks member anniversary dates, send a thoughtful anniversary email or card in the mail. If your association has a CRM, this can be an automated, effective way to show gratitude.

4. Remember The Immense Value of Handwritten Thank You Cards

Not to diminish the value of a simple thank you email, but the impact of receiving a handwritten thank you in the mail is enormous. In today’s online world, so few people take the time to write a note, put it in an envelope, and mail it, that writing a thank you card is almost guaranteed to be recognized and responded to. The impact outweighs the cost of postage, and you can send handwritten thank you notes to anyone at any time, not just members. Most people haven’t written or received a personal letter on paper in five years. 

If you can afford to, have thank you cards printed with your association’s logo on them. Match the card stock to the envelope. For an exceptionally classy approach, have the printer blind emboss (printing without ink) your logo on the card. From personal experience, blind embossed thank you cards are the way to go.

Here’s a great article about the power of a handwritten note.

5. Show Gratitude With Gift Cards

Do you have a core group of members, employees, or volunteers who consistently help make your programs successful? It doesn’t hurt to give them (or an association employee or volunteer) a quick gift card from a local coffee shop or retailer. Have a stack of gift cards on hand so they’re ready to drop in your thank you card for a little added recognition.

6. Send New Members Welcome Gifts

To make a great first impression on the new member, send a handwritten thank you card that arrives within two weeks of joining. Have the association president write the note or other senior association employee, if possible. You could add to the impact with a simple gift, like an association-branded pen or item that reflects the association’s purpose. You can also team up with a sponsor to give larger gifts or industry-specific items.

7. Recognize Significant Membership Milestones

Ongoing association membership is vital to success. Thank those that continue to stay with you year after year. Publicize five-, 10-, and 15-plus-year membership anniversaries on your website and through social media, as well as send a recognition gift. Again, these gifts don’t have to be extremely costly. Public recognition can exude the message that your members are valuable to you, you recognize their achievements and milestones, and that they deserve appreciation. If any of them attend your conference, work with the hotel to help get tokens placed in their guest room from you for that extra touch.

Practical Gifts vs. Non-Functional “Fun” Gifts

Practical gifts, such as pens, calculators, etc., can convey a stronger message of “thanks” compared to a “fun” item, such as stress balls or stuffed animals. Displaying the association’s logo on a practical gift reminds members about the organization whenever it’s used. Fun items may be passed to a child or donated.

Promotional product companies are helpful in generating gift ideas, and you can always ask for a sample before ordering. Smaller promotional businesses, such as Ohana Brand, have excellent customer service to find the right gift ideas for your association’s needs.

8. Don’t Forget to Thank the Volunteers!

Your association probably has volunteers contributing to the organization’s success every day. They may serve on committees or assist at events—all of which are essential for your association to continue. Keep them motivated and feeling valued by showing appreciation for their hard work with these five ideas:

  • Publicly thank volunteers through social media, a dedicated web page, and a short newsletter bio. Plan on thanking one volunteer a month through any media channel you choose.
  • Send a handwritten thank you card at least once a year. 
  • Hold a volunteer appreciation event at your annual conference.
  • Tell the story of how volunteers help your association on your website and social media.

Create a volunteer thank you video for National Volunteer Week highlighting your association’s unsung heroes.


Appreciation for your association members, employees, and volunteers doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or tied to a specific dollar amount. But the “thank you” must be heartfelt and, when done consistently, will embed itself into the association’s culture. 

Contact Core Affinity today to learn about another way of establishing a culture of member appreciation for your association through member benefits like our affinity programs

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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