The importance of saying thank you to your volunteers
What better way to introduce an article about celebrating and recognising volunteers than to talk about our fabulous main award and highly commended awardees from #dva17? These wonderful volunteers were nominated and recognised for their outstanding commitment, and desire to make a real difference in local communities. We recently had two wonderful celebrations when the Mayor and Mayoress, Cllr Dave Tyler and Barbara, welcomed these exceptional volunteers to the Mayor’s Parlour and Council Chamber. These lucky guests enjoyed a special behind the scenes tour, where they learnt lots of fascinating facts and enjoyed tea with the Mayor and Mayoress.
Volunteers Week a national celebration of all things volunteering
1st to 7th June is an annual celebration of volunteers and volunteering. It’s a great opportunity to do something special for your volunteers to say thank you and take the opportunity to maybe recruit some new volunteers too! So let’s get you thinking about how you will say thanks, celebrating and recognising your volunteers’ contributions.
I think this quote from NCVO’s Quick Guide to Thanking Volunteers will hopefully get you thinking … Saying thank you isn’t just for Volunteers Week, it should be an integral part of your volunteer programme…
“On the surface, saying thanks is easy – we all do it every day without thought, but saying thanks in an organisational context can be a very different prospect. Firstly, it can be easy just to forget if, like many charities, your trustees and leadership team have an ambitious vision, then the pressure is on to always look forward, at the expense of reflection.
Or your charity may be characterised by a rigid hierarchy that doesn’t always encourage positive feedback to be filtered down. Because volunteers don’t get paid, you might think that we should naturally be more inclined to thank them, but it might be just as easy to take their generosity for granted, especially if they have been with you for some time. Perhaps worst of all, though, is the ill-judged thank you – too fleeting, insincere, or undeserved. At best it may fall flat; at worst it can anger and linger. So how, how often, and to whom you demonstrate gratitude should be as integral to your volunteer management strategy as their recruitment, training and retention.”
Why not get thinking about how YOU are going to celebrate your Volunteers
Why say thank you?
There are lots of tools you can use to retain your volunteers once you’ve found them and one of the best is simply saying thank you. These are probably the most important two words in any volunteer manager’s vocabulary! You should be saying thank you regularly, rather than once a year during Volunteers Week, so why not start thinking now about how you could do this more often?
Say thank you to your volunteers as they leave at the end of the session they are helping with and encourage staff who work with volunteers in your organisation to do the same. After all a thank you doesn’t cost anything and will help the volunteer feel appreciated, and know you value the time they give to help. Some volunteers don’t like a lot of fuss and would be embarrassed, whereas others like to be the centre of attention. You know your volunteers best but if you don’t, ask the person who looks after them when they are there and see what they think. A little research really helps to make the thank you more personal and genuine.
When you read surveys of why volunteers leave, one popular reason is not feeling valued or appreciated. You can easily rectify this with two little words, so get planning and say thank you more often!
Who should say thank you?
We’ve talked about the value of showing appreciation and saying thank you to volunteers, and I think another important thing to consider is who should be saying it! This probably seems an odd thing to say but it’s something you need to think about isn’t it?
- The person who supervises the volunteer on their regular volunteering slots could be saying thank you at the end of the session. If you train other people in how to support and manage volunteers, it would be a good idea to include a short section on how to recognise volunteers’ contributions and the importance of those two little words!
- You as the Volunteer Co-ordinator could be holding an event to recognise the contribution of a group of volunteers.
- For a more formal event what about the Chair or Chief Executive saying thank you? This would add a certain formality to a gathering, but would also hopefully make the volunteer feel important.
- If you are holding a formal event, you could have a V.I.P. taking on the role – maybe a local MP, the Mayor or some local dignitary who supports your project. In Dudley borough, the Mayor takes on the Volunteering Champion role each year as part of their duties and is usually delighted to support and events involving volunteers.
- If the person speaking at an event isn’t you or the person who supervises the volunteers, make sure you give them some background information about what the volunteers do, not just a list of names. This will help to make the whole thing more personal.
Try to tailor the way you say thank you to the volunteer[s]. If they don’t like a fuss, don’t arrange a formal red carpet event or they may well not turn up! You may have to downscale it to coffee and cake to make them feel more comfortable!
How to value volunteers
When you are planning how to recognise and celebrate your volunteers you may have a number of things to consider:
- How many volunteers you have
- When you need to hold the event to ensure as many as possible can attend – there’s no point choosing a Wednesday evening if half the volunteers are at their Zumba class! Checking availability is a sensible step.
- Is it an informal gathering or a more formal occasion?
- Where you will be holding it? Don’t just think about the geographical location, but also about things like parking, access for those who may be less mobile and how big a venue you need.
- Who to invite – if you need someone key to attend such as your Chair, Chief Exec, the Mayor or a local MP, you may need to work the event around their availability.
- Plan a programme for the event – a rough plan of who’s doing what and when is always reassuring and if it’s a more formal event, you may wish to have a printed programme for guests.
- Budget – this is probably the most important thing to consider! If you are a small organisation and don’t have a budget for volunteer recognition and celebration, this may restrict your plans a little. You can do a great event on a shoestring, if you can find a free venue, free certificates from your local Volunteer Centre [we produce them every year for our local groups], get people to bring a contribution towards refreshments/buffet etc.
It’s quality that’s important and a genuine wish to make volunteers feel valued.
How to tell the world [well at least the local area how much you value your volunteers?]
There are lots of ways you can do this and most of them are free!
- Newsletters – have you got an organisational newsletter? This is a great place to tell other staff, volunteers and clients, just how wonderful your volunteers are. Add a photo and you are onto a winner!
- Website/Blog/Twitter/Facebook/other social media – a popular way to share what you think of your volunteers with the world [literally via the World Wide Web] is via your website or social media streams. A winsome photo is a sure fire way to get your good news shared. When I published the photos from Dudley Volunteer Awards in October 2017, I had over 6000 views of the photos in 48 hours on the dva17.wordpress.com blog! If you aren’t au-fait with social media, why not attend a free local ‘Write here, write now’ session run by friendly staff from Dudley CVS, who will be able to support you to tell your story and get to grips with a variety of media platforms.
- Local media – newspapers, radio and TV – are a great way to show your pride in your volunteer[s]. Don’t forget to tell them why your volunteer[s] deserve recognition and hopefully this will also help raise the profile of your project or organisation. Black Country Radio is a local community radio station and always looking for guests for their shows, so why not get in touch?
- Awards – Dudley Volunteer Awards are an annual event held alongside Dudley CVS’s Annual General Meeting. Local volunteers [both individuals and groups] can be nominated and recognised at this high profile celebration. The winners are chosen by a panel made up of the Mayor, local decision makers, voluntary sector reps and our Chairman. Nominations for Dudley Volunteer Awards open in June each year and everyone nominated for the awards is invited along to the Dudley Volunteer Awards celebration in October. You can nominate now by visiting this year’s Awards blog https://dva2018.wordpress.com/ and clicking on the Nominate There are also the Mayor’s Civic Awards, which are another annual award scheme.
- Queens Award – if you want to nominate a group of volunteers, why not consider this award? It’s a prestigious award and equivalent to an MBE for voluntary groups and charities. You can find out more by visiting the Queens Award website or by contacting Eileen at Dudley CVS Volunteer Centre on firstname.lastname@example.org