Originally posted on the NCVO website.

Saying thanks

Whether we’ll admit it or not, we all love to receive a genuine ‘thank you’ for something we have done. There is something that makes even the most cynical of us (guilty as charged) at least feel a little warmth inside us. Even if we don’t always show it.

And it’s for that reason that Volunteers’ Week exists: to publically and collectively get together one week in the year and say thank you to the millions of volunteers across the UK.

Volunteers’ Week doesn’t mean you need to save all your thank you’s for this week (after all, as a dog is for life not just for Christmas, volunteer recognition is for every week, not just Volunteers’ Week). Rather its aim is to amplify and magnify that recognition, and to celebrate all the awesome stuff volunteers are doing. And in the age of social media: to get it trending on Twitter!

This year, NCVO and AVM decided we’d try out a Twitter chat for volunteer managers to talk about saying thanks to volunteers. Using #SayingThanks, this was an opportunity for volunteer managers to ask questions and share how best to thank volunteers. It’s the first time we’ve ever done a Twitter chat, so we were a bit nervous, but it was great to see people joining in, answering and asking questions. You can see the Moment on Twitter.

Cultivate an attitude for gratitude

What really struck me during the chat was how passionate volunteer managers are about thanking and recognising volunteers. But how some struggle to get the rest of the organisation to feel the same way. I’m not surprised by this: when AVM surveyed volunteer managers for International Volunteer Managers’ Day 2017 we found one of the biggest challenges was lack of buy-in from their organisation for volunteering. This is something AVM wants to work on with NCVO and the rest of the sector, to try and empower volunteer managers to bring about a culture of volunteering in their organisations.

The chat also confirmed what I long suspected: volunteering runs on a cuppa and cake! Food has always been a way of bringing people together and celebrating, across all cultures and countries. I don’t think we’re going to see an end to the celebratory tea any time soon.

Two slices of cake

So what did we learn from during the chat? Here are some thoughts I’d like to share with you about how to thank and recognise the valuable contributions volunteers make every day and night.

Don’t go overboard

I once heard of a group of volunteers who asked what terrible change an organisation was going to bring in, because so many members of staff thanked them during Volunteers’ Week. What a sad reflection on the organisation’s attitude to recognising volunteers. While Volunteers’ Week is a great time to specifically thank volunteers more formally, regular thanks should be part of everyone’s everyday interactions with volunteers.

Keep it regular

Volunteers are part of the team and should be treated as such. Making thanks at the end of a shift part of how you engage with volunteers is as valuable as an annual party. Remember to share thanks genuinely, regularly and as soon as you can. Don’t save it all up for an annual Volunteers’ Week event. When you get feedback about an individual volunteer, share it with them immediately.

Make it personal

We all know the volunteers who have their collection of length of service pin badges, or who will be interviewed for local press at the drop of a hat. But what about the volunteer who’d rather not get up in front of a room full of people? There is no ‘one-size fits all’ way to thank a volunteer. When it comes to those extra special thank you’s when someone has gone above and beyond expectations, make it personal to them. After all, nobody wants to be the volunteer manager who gives a bunch of flowers to a volunteer who has hayfever!

Shout about it

That doesn’t mean you need to drag every volunteer who does a great job on a stage to shake hands with the local Mayor (though, if they’d like that, bring it on!). There are other ways you can shout about what volunteers. Social media and local press are a great way to spread the message. But equally, let the rest of the team know too. After all, you know what difference volunteers are making, but do your colleagues in Finance or IT know?

Share the love

Share the thanks you get from clients who’ve been helped by volunteers. (Yes, you can do this, even with GDPR, just make sure you know how can you do this!) You can put a copy of a letter on a noticeboard, or include snippets in your volunteer newsletter or email. It’s far more powerful to share thanks in the words of the person who is giving it.

Share the goodies

Almost everyone loves some branded goodies. You can also make it useful if you think about what volunteers need. Do they have to carry around paperwork? How about a branded bag. Do they travel a lot? Then a travelcard wallet is a great idea. You could always ask a local business to fund it if it’s not something you would normally produce. Or see if you can give them early access to the latest fundraising goodies. If it’s really good, you could always pull names from a hat!.

These are just a few things I’ve picked up from talking with other volunteer managers. We’d love to continue this conversation on Twitter so please share your questions, thoughts, ideas and suggestions using #SayingThanks.

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