Volunteering our thanks

Hand-made thank you card

It’s Volunteers’ Week in the UK and, in the spirit of our previous post about the best way to keep volunteers happy, we at Reach have been asking the volunteer staff across our own organisation exactly how it feels to be thanked for their efforts- from the kinds of “thank you” they find the most truly moving, to the kinds they sort of don’t…

“The main thing about a thank you is that it must be sincere, genuine,” said Anoop, Reach’s resident social media expert. “There is no value in being thanked in a routine and mechanical manner, a letter that is computer generated or a bulk email that has gone out to ten thousand other people… In some cases saying  the actual words, ‘thank you’ isn’t necessary if the attitude and reaction to a person’s contribution are polite and respectful.” He added: “I would rather someone always treated me as a valued equal without saying thanks, than if someone continually acted discourteously and thought a few words once a year demonstrated gratitude.”

Bilwa, a volunteer in Reach’s HR department, pointed to a particular gift given to her by a charity she volunteered with- a diary- in appreciation for her efforts. “I really feel good,” she said, of being thanked. “It makes me feel belonged, a part of… [they] don’t just look at you as a person available for free, they do look at you as, you know, a person.” Little things like giving away a tangible gift can be extremely effective when it’s a gift specifically picked out to fit the volunteer’s personality- something that can make them feel acknowledged on an individual level.

Brian Mills has been volunteering at Reach since 1996- so something about it certainly appeals to him! But Brian was quick to note that, while it is always nice to be thanked, “there’s a distinction between routine thanks and regular thanks.” Brian added that, while it was always “nice to have,” thanks, there was a palpable difference between genuine praise meant to prop a volunteer’s spirits, and more “ritual,” thanks, usually produced off the cuff by a boss “breez[ing] into the office.”

Brian suggested that the most genuine, effective thanks were the most obviously distinguishable from more token gestures- thanks bestowed “for a particular thing… [so]you know they’re grateful that you did it.” The more precise the thank you, the more resonant its results- because it lets the volunteer know they’re being appreciated for something they’ve done with their specific skillset, as opposed to just being thanked for turning up.

As we may have previously mentioned, every volunteer is different, and that individuality is an important asset to their service. So, wherever possible, it’s important to remind volunteers that they’re appreciated above all as individuals. In that spirit, as Volunteer Appreciation Week draws to a close, we’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the vital contributors who make up Reach’s staff- one at a time. Here is a list of all the volunteers who make our offices go round, with a very special thanks for each and every one (just mouse over the names to see).

And to all the other skilled volunteers who’ve come through Reach – and, really, everyone else in the world who has ever given their time up for  charitable good, please forgive us for being a little generalist just this once- we don’t know all your names. But be assured, as Volunteers’ Week draws to a close, we really do sincerely mean it when we say…

Thank you.

Elliot is Reach’s dedicated volunteer blogger
June 7th, 2013 by