SAYING “THANK YOU” TO YOUR VOLUNTEERS
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
William Arthur Ward
If, in the words of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” then those two little words, “Thank You,” should be the easiest.
We say them every day, in a whole variety of situations, often without thinking too much about them. But when the idea of saying an organisational “thank you” comes up, things can get trickier. It becomes something that isn’t said often enough or doesn’t get communicated in a fitting and appropriate manner.
Demonstrating gratitude and recognising volunteer contribution matters on a number of levels particularly as what volunteers bring – their time and something of themselves – is always unique and personal.
Volunteers – at the heart of making things happen
Volunteers are the lifeblood of many charities and charitable organisations. Working alongside and complementing the roles played by paid staff, they strengthen teams and bring their skills, experience and motivation to the cause. In the words of the chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, “their impact on society is much larger than most people think.” Their economic value, adding some £40billion to UK GDP is the easiest to quantify and understand, but the less measurable social and personal benefits they bring must never be underestimated.
Why saying “thank you” matters
Volunteer recruitment, training and management is time-consuming so it’s in both your organisation’s and volunteers’ best interests to make your relationship as fulfilling as it possibly can be. When an organisation works within constrained resources and has its eye firmly fixed on its purpose, taking time for reflection can get pushed down the list of priorities.
Expressing appreciation reassures your volunteers, letting them know that their contribution is making a difference, building their engagement with and commitment to your cause. The recognition that genuine appreciation brings can further motivate them and, if done publicly, can also generate positive publicity and build awareness for your cause.
Appreciation builds ongoing relationships
Thanking volunteers is all about developing relationships with them. Your current volunteers are crucial to your operations on a day-to-day, project delivery basis but at the same time they also act as ambassadors at your events and within their own communities. In this role they raise awareness of, and affinity for, your organisation, bringing in the support of their friends, family and colleagues. In time, they and their loved ones may become donors and legators.
If not taking volunteers’ generosity for granted is crucial, it’s just as important not to give ill-judged thanks – a perfunctory nod, communication via an impersonal “send-all” email or insincere sentiment can cause lasting damage. So how you say thank you matters and should play a vital role in your volunteer management strategy.
Finding a powerful way to say “thank you”
Ideas for celebrating the work of volunteers range from sending simple but heartfelt handwritten messages to arranging special events; from mentions in your organisation’s annual report to a “Volunteer of the Month” scheme.
In recognising the importance and benefits of saying “thank you” on a regular and ongoing basis, one of our clients, SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, has created the SSAFA Volunteer Book 2017.
This online book is a dedicated space for volunteers to share their experiences, talk about their often very personal reasons for getting involved with the charity and see themselves honoured for their contribution. It’s a powerful way of building a lasting tribute to their commitment and strengthening their sense of purpose and community.