Remember to Say Please and Thank You

“Did you remember to thank Mr. Jones for the birthday gift?” “Did I hear a ‘please’ when you asked for the milk to be passed?” We all recall our parents giving us these reminders when we were little, don’t we? I certainly do and I see parents frequently trying to teach their children the importance of the little words “please” and “thank you.” So if we have all learned how to use them properly (and often), why do some forget to use them with their volunteers?

Most nonprofit organizations could not survive without the dedication of their volunteers. Whether the volunteers are reading stories to sick children in hospitals, stuffing envelopes, planting trees or conducting an accreditation site visit, volunteers are critical to fulfilling nonprofit missions across the country and the world. In fact, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service 62.8 million adults provided nearly 8.1 billion hours of volunteer time in 2010. WOW!

While many nonprofits work hard to develop programs that focus on the Three R’s of Volunteer Management: Recruit, Retain and Recognize, some either get so busy they forget to take the time to say “please” and “thank you” or cite budget constraints.

The “please” part should be easy; ask your volunteers nicely to participate, don’t just assume that they will because they have done it before. No one wants to be taken for granted. So all communications whether verbal, electronic or via social media should put forward the polite request to support the organization or take part in an activity. See? Easy.

Now for the second part. When was the last time you contacted your volunteers on an individual basis to thank them for their efforts? If you can’t remember, then read on…

Volunteer recognition and the act of saying “thank you” should be an ongoing process, not just an annual dinner where rubber chicken is served and speeches are made, assuming you have the money to provide a rubber chicken dinner and your volunteers are in your same geographic area. For those with limited budgets and/or have volunteers far and wide there are a ton of ways to thank your volunteers that take little or no money. These are some of my favorites:

  1. Redeem those American Express reward points your company has been accumulating to send your volunteers gift cards or travel vouchers. Free stuff!
  2. Mail a letter of thanks signed by your Executive Director or Board Chair.
  3. Send personalized cards for birthdays, anniversaries and to say thank you…just because.
  4. E-cards can be a great way to send a fun note to brighten a volunteer’s day.
  5. Give random “shout outs” to your volunteers on your social networking sites and add photos to your photo gallery.
  6. Have a “Superstar Wall” or “Wall of Fame” in your office where you have pictures and names of your volunteers posted for everyone to see with a banner that reads “We couldn’t do it without our Superstar Volunteers!”
  7. Politely ask every person in your organization to add a line to their email signature to show appreciation like, “[agency name] could not fulfill our mission without the help and support of our terrific volunteers. Thank you!”
  8. Say “thank you” at the end of every phone conversation and email. It goes a long way.

What are ways that you like to thank your volunteers? Please share.

Posted in Volunteer Management and tagged , , .

One Comment

  1. This is a superb post! I work for a nonprofit that has gone through some key leadership changes within the past year and I have seen morale decline. While your writing certainly is applicable to the volunteers we have, it brings to mind that our employees ARE our volunteers – or at least are the majority of our volunteer base – and the sentiments that you describe can be carried through to effective, essential leadership, too.

    Sincere gratitude and appreciation go a long way. Let’s face it, ‘non’ profits are labeled quite appropriately and many employees are not going to become wealthy in the monetary sense building their careers in this industry. Yet I say that feeling fulfilled and ‘wealthy’ can come from a job where employees are valued in just the ways that you described above…please and thank you…simple, eloquent, essential!

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