Can a Nonprofit Give Gifts to Volunteers? Things You Should Know

Can a Non Profit Give Gifts to Volunteers?

Volunteers are the backbone of any nonprofit organization, generously donating their time and skills for a greater cause. But can a nonprofit reciprocate this kindness by offering gifts? This article delves into the legal and ethical considerations surrounding this question, aiming to provide a comprehensive guide for nonprofit leaders who wish to express their gratitude in a tangible way.

Things to Consider in Nonprofit Gift-giving

Below are a few things you have to consider when giving volunteer appreciation gifts.

Acknowledgment vs. Compensation

Acknowledgment: Gifts are often given as a token of appreciation to encourage volunteer recognition. These gifts should be nominal in value and not based on the number of hours volunteered or the type of service provided. For instance, giving a small thank-you gift during a volunteer appreciation event is typical.

Compensation: If the gift’s value is substantial, or if the giving is regular and tied to the amount or type of service provided, it might be viewed as compensation rather than a gift. In such cases, there can be tax and legal implications, as volunteers could be seen as employees.

Tax Implications for the Volunteer

If a volunteer receives a gift or a series of gifts that have substantial value, the IRS might consider this taxable income. It is safer to give gifts with nominal value to avoid tax deductions.

Tax Implications for the Nonprofit

Nonprofits should be cautious about spending a significant portion of their funds on gifts for volunteers, as this can raise questions about whether the organization is truly operating for a charitable purpose. Such actions could potentially endanger the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status if it appears they are not primarily serving their stated mission. Gifts to volunteers, especially if they are of substantial value, should be documented and justifiable as a necessary and appropriate use of the nonprofit’s funds.

Public Perception and Donor Trust

How a nonprofit organization uses its funds can affect public perception and donor trust. If the public or donors perceive that the nonprofit is giving lavish gifts to volunteers, they might question the integrity or management of the organization, leading to reduced donations and support.

Gift Policies

The overarching goal of a gift-giving policy in a nonprofit context is to recognize and appreciate volunteers while ensuring ethical standards and responsible use of resources. Having a well-defined policy can help in building trust with both volunteers and donors, reinforcing the integrity and credibility of the organization.


It’s advisable for nonprofits to document any gifts given to volunteers, including the reason for the gift, its value, and the recipient’s name. This documentation can be useful for both internal record-keeping and any potential audits.

​Gift Ideas for Nonprofit Volunteers

​Nonprofits can display volunteer appreciation in different ways. You can either opt for tangible gift items or intangible gifts. Stated below are some easy-to-manage gift ideas. 

Tangible Gifts

Recognition Awards

    • Certificates: Certificates are a powerful way to highlight volunteer efforts in the nonprofit sector. It’s cost-effective to value their efforts toward achieving your nonprofit goals. Ideally, the certificates should be handed over through a ceremony to elevate the confidence of volunteers.
    • Plaques or Trophies: These souvenirs generally leave a more powerful impact compared to a certificate alone. High-quality trophies and plaques can last a lifetime and this way your organization will be cherished forever. Do mention the efforts and qualities of your volunteers in one line for a personalized touch.

Branded Merchandise

    • T-shirts: Eco-friendly t-shirts with your organization’s logo and tagline would be a great way to have your company registered in people’s minds. Nonprofit owners should consider coming up with a range of catchy designs annually. The shirts can be distributed around company-specific events and holiday seasons.
    • Tote Bags: Tote bags are another very useful merchandise that you can use as a gift to your volunteers. All you need to do is make sure that the design has your logo and on top of that, high-quality material must be used.
    • Pins or Badges: Enamel pins and badges have never gone out of trend. These little goodies can be put on bags and shirts.
    • Mugs: Who doesn’t want a mug for the daily morning coffee? Get a batch of mugs with your organization’s logo. It’s something that will always be loved by your volunteers.

All of the items above can either be distributed as a single unit or you can curate an eye-catching gift basket. Such merchandise could be the perfect holiday gift for your volunteers. Also, don’t forget to add handwritten notes for individual volunteers with any of these to add a more personal touch to it.

Gift Cards

Consider local businesses or experiences over generic big-brand stores. This not only supports local businesses but also gives the volunteer a unique experience.


Personalization is key. If a book aligns with the mission of the nonprofit or resonates with the organization’s values, it can be more meaningful. Including a handwritten note inside can add a touch of warmth.

Here are the top 3 books that you may consider giving to your volunteers:

  • The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change
  • Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
  • The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World

Experience Gifts

  • Tickets: Opt for experiences that might offer the volunteer a new perspective or align with their interests, such as a local cultural event, art exhibit, or a workshop. It’s definitely an effective way to bring more value to your organization.
  • Memberships: Ensure the membership offers genuine value, like discounts, exclusive access, or events.

Wellness Gifts

  • Plant: Opt for plants that are easy to care for, like succulents. You could also choose plants that purify air or those that hold specific symbolism.
  • Wellness Kits: Curate a package with a combination of items like herbal teas, essential oils, an eye mask, or even guided meditation resources.

Unique Personalized Gifts

Commissioning artworks or crafts from local artisans can support the local community while providing a unique gift. For instance, a handcrafted pottery piece or a personalized painting.

Intangible Gifts

Skill Development

Offering workshops or courses that equip volunteers with new skills is a great gift for your volunteer staff especially those who are still in their initial stages of learning. This not only benefits the volunteer personally but can also enhance their contribution to the organization. Even already skilled volunteers can benefit from skill development programs.

Networking Opportunities

Facilitate meet-and-greets, webinars, or commercial activities with industry professionals, community leaders, or other notable figures related to the nonprofit’s mission.


A structured mentorship program where seasoned volunteers guide newcomers can be invaluable. It fosters a sense of community and growth.

Exclusive Access

Allow volunteers first access to events, workshops, or resources. This makes them feel valued and privileged.

Feedback and Growth Opportunities

Constructive feedback can be a gift. Offering volunteers insights into their strengths and areas for improvement can guide their personal and professional growth.

In all gifting scenarios, understanding your volunteers — their preferences, values, and motivations — is crucial. Personal touches, genuine gratitude, and ensuring the gift aligns with the nonprofit’s ethos and budget are key considerations. Remember, the intention behind the gift often holds more weight than its monetary value.

Gift-giving Policies for Nonprofits

Gift-giving policies for nonprofit organizations are crucial for maintaining transparency, adhering to ethical standards, and ensuring the proper stewardship of resources. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all policy for all nonprofits, several common principles and guidelines can be adopted. Here’s a breakdown of what a gift-giving policy might encompass when it comes to giving gifts to volunteers:

Purpose of the Policy

Clearly state the objective, such as recognizing the valuable contributions of volunteers while ensuring that gifts are provided equitably, transparently, and responsibly.

Budgetary Constraints

Define a set budget for volunteer gifts each fiscal year. Consider the proportion of the budget allocated to gifts, ensuring that it remains a small fraction so as not to detract from the nonprofit’s main mission.

Value Limitations

Establish a maximum value for individual gifts to ensure that they aren’t overly extravagant. This threshold helps in maintaining consistency and avoiding potential tax implications.

Frequency of Giving

Specify how often gifts can be given. This could be annually, during special events, upon achieving certain milestones, or on other occasions.

Types of Gifts

Offer guidelines on acceptable types of gifts, which could range from branded merchandise to experiential rewards. Exclude gifts that could be seen as lavish or inappropriate for the nonprofit’s image.

Gift Approval Process

Detail a process for approving gifts, especially if they’re outside the typical range or type. This might involve approval from a committee or senior management.

Documentation and Record Keeping

Maintain records of all gifts given, including the recipient’s name, date, type, and value of the gift. This helps in maintaining transparency and is useful for audits or reviews. Nonprofit owners should also include the details in their annual reports.

Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination

Ensure that gifts are given equitably and not based on favoritism. All volunteers should be treated with fairness and without any discrimination based on race, gender, age, or other protected categories.

Tax Implications

Highlight any potential tax implications for both the nonprofit and the volunteer. Ensure that the gifts provided do not unintentionally create a taxable event.

Transparency with Donors and Stakeholders

Address how the organization communicates its gift-giving practices to donors and stakeholders to maintain trust and transparency.

Review and Update

Set a regular review schedule for the policy to ensure it remains relevant and in line with the organization’s mission and values.

Conflict of Interest

Address potential conflicts of interest, ensuring that gift-giving does not influence decision-making processes or give the appearance of impropriety.

Feedback and Concerns

Provide a mechanism for volunteers and staff to voice concerns or provide feedback on the gift-giving process.


Proper planning, clear policies, and staying informed on tax and legal implications will help you navigate volunteer appreciation effectively. It’s important we support and show appreciation to our volunteers for all they do!

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