Finding the words to say "Thank You"

Catherine Kitts
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By Gayle Downing

Volunteer recognition has always been a vital part of volunteer management.  

But, the way in which volunteers want to be thanked is changing.  I am finding that some of the volunteers that I have interviewed within the last couple of years say that they don’t want to be thanked.  They don’t want to attend a recognition event.  However, they do want to be thanked; they just want to be thanked in different ways.  They may not realize that they do want (and expect) to be appreciated, but perhaps not with a formal event.

I don’t think that charities should stop thanking their volunteers in a formal way.  There are still many volunteers that enjoy a recognition event and like to receive awards such as certificates or plaques.  These are very important events and must be continued.  However, I have learned that not every volunteer wants to attend a recognition event.  

We should verbally thank our volunteers whenever the opportunity presents itself and we need to be sure that we are sincere.  We need to provide them with opportunities for feedback or suggestions regarding their role and/or the agency.  We need to remind them that what they are doing is making a difference and that they are providing a valuable service.  We need to ensure that staff and volunteers are working as a ‘team’ and volunteers are a vital part of that team.  If they have a specific timeline regarding their availability we need to work with them, if possible.  If they have individual skills that they would like to bring to their volunteer role we need to attempt to incorporate those skills.  Volunteers need to know that they are being protected, physically, emotionally and legally.  Protection and liability should be explained to them and any questions that they have needs to be answered clearly for them.

Respecting volunteers no matter who they are and what role they play is essential.  Respect is recognition.  Working as a team is recognition.  Sincerity is recognition.  Honesty is recognition.  Inclusiveness is recognition.  Attentiveness is recognition (attentiveness to their volunteer role and to them personally).  Being valued and appreciated is recognition.  Praise is recognition (make it individual and personal, make it sincere).  Always being welcoming and pleasant is recognition.  Letters of reference (if needed) is recognition.  

Formal or informal recognition?  Both,  just get it done!

Gayle Downing is the Volunteer Development Coordinator at the Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre. Gayle has worked in volunteer management for approximately 25 years and became certified in 1996. She provides the Orléans Star bi-monthly articles on how to become a better volunteer in the region.


Organizations: Resource Centre

Geographic location: Ottawa

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