In the midst of chaos — Thank You Thursdays

Uncategorized / Thursday, May 15th, 2014

How and when to thank volunteers during stressful times

Written by: Anna Spady,


When have you most needed to hear someone say thank you? For me, it’s when I’ve been so crunched, overwhelmed and stressed that I couldn’t remember why I was bothering to put one foot in front of the other.

Lots of volunteer managers talk about how to say thank you to their volunteers. They’ve written articles on how to spread appreciation creatively and listed good ideas for thank you notes or gifts. But what about when to say thank you?

Traditionally, it’s after the community service is complete. Perhaps at a party or anniversary, which is needed and lovely. Yet, I’d argue the best time to say thank you to a volunteer might be in the midst of the chaos. Here’s why, as well as how (I couldn’t help myself):

1. Make them laugh
What is the best thank you one can give someone in crisis? It might be a gorilla suit. Why you ask? Laughter.

Crisis creates mental and emotional turmoil that literally stresses or pushes the body. The stress can shut down logical parts of the brain (pre-frontal cortex), and instead place the focus on survival instincts (brain stem). Basically, a crisis can transform a grounded, logical person into a panicky mess.

But laughter cures all. Laughing can help manage stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine by releasing feel-good hormones such as endorphins. So, how can a volunteer manager make this happen:

– Give out silly awards
– Keep funny hats/costumes around the office
– Instigate 30-second office dance parities or nerf gun wars
– Watch funny “YouTube video” videos

When an event or situation becomes too stressful, laughter can seem like a luxury. But in reality, it’s a necessity. To make someone laugh is to give them a gift, so give it as a thank you for what they have given you.

2. Acknowledge sacrifice
It’s tempting in the midst of chaos to buckle down, put your head in the sand and pretend that everything is fine. It can also be easy to not acknowledge what other people are sacrificing. Not on purpose, but just because there is so much else going on. However, that mistake can make you look like a jerk and make your volunteers feel under appreciated.

Some of the best thank yous I’ve ever received where when managers acknowledged what my giving cost. My weekends, vacation, sleep; It made me feel like I was freely giving up my time, instead of having it taken from me by someone else.

Thank people by proving you see them. Show them you care about them and their lives by asking about them and their lives.

3. Buy them a drink
Give your staff or volunteers inspiration for their bulging to-do lists and long days with a strong cup of coffee. Once the day is over and the project completed, celebrate with a victory happy hour.

If you can, take them out and tell them specifically why you are grateful for their help. Describe what their efforts give you, allows you to do and means to the organization. And be sure to finish with a thank you toast. 

So when should you give thanks?

If life is manic, if you don’t know how your organization is going to make it through the next couple of days — let alone months — then right now is the perfect time to say thank you. Actually, no matter the situation, just take a moment this very minute and thank the volunteers around you.

Then do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next. The point is volunteer managers always need to be thanking those who help them, even in the midst of chaos.

P.S. Need Inspiration? Gift ideas, thank you card templates and/or quotes can be found on our Pinterest board, which is filled with great ways to show your appreciation.