Volunteer Party 2016 27219007181 O
Tools & Resources

Sat, Jun 22, 2013

Diana Kapsner

Diana Kapsner - Events Manager

How to Throw a Volunteer Party

It’s not everyday that you get asked to make tea cups out of gummy worms and ice cream cones. Or find buried gravestones in Pioneer-era cemeteries. Or parade downtown with puppets and stilts with a performance-art based band. These are just a few of the unexpected & unpredictable tasks the MAH’s volunteers are asked to do. Our volunteer recognition party is the one day we get to formally thank our ever creative, ever inspiring volunteers for all the amazing work they contribute to the MAH over the last year. And we wanted to make sure that this year’s was nothing short of amazing.

We were hard pressed to find anything online about how to throw a volunteer recognition party. We scoured the internet for ideas, budget models, and looked to other museums for inspiration but to no success.

But it wasn’t as hard as we thought. Here’s what we did:

Do It Yourself

The most essential element to any party is the people. Lucky for us, we had a group of wonderful volunteers that all happened to double as guests of honor. The next step was figuring out what kind of party to throw. We’ve done wild themes before (we’re recalling a 70’s themed party a few years back where the guests weren’t too “psyched” to dress up in bell bottoms or tie-dye) but those can be hit or miss. Rather than don capes for a superhero party, we decided to base the decorations on a concept that is very familiar with our museum– DIY. “Do it Yourself” embodies a spirit of experimentation and participation, which is very much what we strive for at our museum.

DIY translated into a party theme that meant handmade decorations, borrowed props, simple concepts like butch paper table runners, and enlisting the help of crafty co-workers. We ended up using and borrowing a lot of supplies that we already owned from previous exhibitions and events. The basement became a gold mine of supplies and inspiration. Fabric scraps, old books, wine bottles, mason jars, yarn… you name it and we can pretty much find it in our basement.


If you are in need for creative inspiration or party ideas, we recommend using Pinterest. We use the site for so many different projects- 3rd Friday art craft ideas, creative ways to make our Front Desk more organized and efficient- and it works like a charm for party ideas. It’s a great tool for everyone because they offer crafts and activities that range in skill and difficulty. Pinterest is where we found and solidified our ideas for the general party atmosphere and specific elements, like the table centerpieces.

Ask for Help

The budget for throwing a volunteer party was limited, so we decided to walk next door to local businesses and organizations to borrow a cup of sugar, so to speak. We knew catering was going to cost the most, so our goal was to get everything else donated. The community response was amazing! With the help of our Volunteer Services Intern, Jennifer, we received donations from local catering companies & prizes for volunteers. We even made a stop to our local Farmers Market to get flowers and strawberries.

Take it Personally

We wanted to make a special and personalized “thank you” for every volunteer. However, with changing RSVP lists, a total of 150 volunteers, and a small staff, thanking everyone personally can be difficult. But we added as much personalized flair as possible.

  1. Volunteer Recognition Cards
    All of our honored volunteers received this specialized card. A picture of all the staff surrounding a chalkboard with a handwritten “THANK YOU” by our Museum Camp Intern, Iris, followed by their name and what they are being thanked for. Staff also wrote a personalized message on the back.

  2. Prizes
    Honored volunteers also received a small gift. The prizes were random and varied from a restaurant gift certificate to passes to the local roller rink (generously donated from local businesses). Our favorite aspect of the prizes was the packaging, fashioned with paper, tape, foliage, and a little love.

  3. Party Favors
    A few exhibitions ago, we accumulated a ridiculous amount of mason jars for a fun in-gallery activity about memory. Ever since then, we’ve been looking for ways to reuse those jars. What better use than as a vessel for party favors for our 80 volunteer guests? We stuffed them with new MAH merch like pencils and buttons and, of course, candy!

So, how did our party turn out? Well, one of our staff members shared a tearful thank you with a volunteer. Our volunteer of the year was thanked with a standing ovation. Just about all the staff came to the event (which is hard to coordinate). And another volunteer brought us cupcakes after the party as a way of returning the favor.