Most of us say thank you for common courtesies like holding the elevator and passing the salt. But a thank you can mean much more.
Lance Armstrong sent his space suit engineering team a thank you for keeping him “safe on the moon,” while Audrey Hepburn wrote her composer thanking him for making “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” a real film.
Thanking volunteers is something we know we should do, but it’s easy to put it off because figuring out how is too overwhelming or ideas too trite.
But it’s possible and more importantly — vital. To start, showing gratitude tells people that what they do really matters. Secondly, if you want someone to repeat an action, you must reinforce it. This concept was repeatedly hammered into me during my Psych undergrad education. From Pavlov’s dogs to thank you notes to presents, it’s all the same.
Thus, here are some ways to give a great thank you.
- Be Authentic Bottom line, we all value what is personal and authentic. Don’t automate. The ultimate thank you fail is anything automatic so just avoid it at all costs.
- Stay Specific Why are you grateful? What do a volunteers’ efforts accomplish? Example being “…because you volunteered, we are able to care for 20 more animals.” And don’t forget, old-fashioned handwritten thank you letters still go a long way.
- Make it Meaningful This post was actually written in response to a tip we received from a subscriber. “Volunteers prefer a thank you speech from our president to any other kind of rewarding event (dinner, special event only for volunteers, etc).” Show them you care.
- Surprise and Delight In marketing classes, they teach you that your job is to surprise and delight your consumers, which will bring them back for more. Case in point, the best thank you’s I’ve ever received: “Wilma the Pineapple,” funny phonetic nameplates and a flower-shaped Star Chart made of sticky notes listing my accomplishments.
In that regard, here are a few creative forms of thanking volunteers.
- Gage happiness by buying lunch Former volunteer manager Amber Cooney once said, “I often use this opportunity as a chance to gauge the volunteer’s happiness within the organization and to see if they are in the right niche within the nonprofit.” Here are few more of her great tips.
- Make it worth their while Gift cards and coupons are nothing new, but acquiring them for free or at least cheap is laborious. Luckily, one platform does the work for you. SwapServe matches nonprofits that need manpower with businesses willing to pledge reward gifts. Other organizations additionally let volunteers earn rewards like a trip to Disney World directly.
- Trade your ticket Another wonderful Cooney suggestion. Offer families that can’t afford to pay minor traffic violation tickets a chance to volunteer for you instead.
I recently tried to explain to a child why saying thank you was important. Yet, my lecture on politeness was met with a blank stare. Finally I told him that thank you means that what someone does is important to you, that what they do makes you happy.
And who wouldn’t want to hear that?