I recently heard someone quote a statistic about church volunteers. Apparently, 65% of volunteers say they haven’t heard the words “thank you” in the last 12 months. Some may think that’s sad, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Let me be clear, saying “Thank you” to your volunteers is just about pointless. Anyone can utter the words, it doesn’t mean anything.
For the record, I have no problem with saying “thank you”, on the contrary, I think it’s perfectly fine to say thank you. The problem is, saying “thank you” often becomes mindless appreciation and we say it instead of showing it. It’s far better to show gratitude than say gratitude. Anyone can say it, however, the key to appreciating your volunteers is showing it. Or at the very least displaying it in a meaningful way.
So, instead of the mindless “thank you”, do these three things instead.
The first time I heard someone say “Don’t Say Thank You to Volunteers”, I thought it was crazy. I was in Colorado Springs going through the Executive Course in Volunteer Development Ministry Level 1 taught by Al from Newell and Associates. It was a part of my initial training with Operation Christmas Child. I was kind of surprised to hear a Volunteer Management expert say those words. As he explained what he meant, though, I realized that my entire experience leading volunteers fell right in line with what he meant.
1. Be specific in what you say and how you say it
“Thanks for all you do.” – Me, as I walk past you after a long day.
How does that feel? That may happen to you all the time, and therefore, you won’t think twice when you hear it. However, although you may appreciate it, you won’t ever think of it again. It’s transactional versus transformational.
Transactional is like when a cashier at McDonald’s says “Hello” and leaves it at that.
Transformational is like when an employee of Chick-fil-A greets you with “How may I serve you?” and then follows up by really serving you!
Do this instead.
“Hey ___, I appreciate all of the hard work you put in today. I know it’s not easy to give up your Sundays like this but I want you to know what you’re doing here is having not only an eternal impact, but an impact on the lives of these families right now.” – Me, as I stop what I’m doing, stand right in front of you and look you in the eyes.
See the difference?
You might think that you can’t do that for everyone and you certainly can’t do that every week for everyone. You might be right in that, but when you begin doing that, your volunteers will begin to feel supported and appreciated more than ever before. Doing this is a transformational act.
2. Gossip positively
Gossip may not be a good word to describe this but I think you get the picture. If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all. On the other hand, if you have something nice to say about someone, tell people.
If you’re a pastor and one of your volunteers did something awesome, let the other church leaders know. Bring it up in a leadership or Pastor’s meeting, bring it up with your leader volunteers, or give a group of volunteers a shout out on social media. Do you have any idea how excited a volunteer gets when they see their name and picture on the social media profile of their church or organization where they serve?
Better yet, if you see someone else’s volunteer do a great job, tell that staff member/leader. Too often, we only hear complaints and/or bad news. It feels good to have people talk about how great your team is.
3. Give them something
It doesn’t have to be something that you buy, but it could be. You can hand write a thank you card or a note, you can give them a gift card, take them out for coffee or lunch, bring them something they like, have a pizza night or a donut day. If you decide to buy them something or take them out for coffee or lunch, pay for it yourself! You may have a budget or get reimbursed to treat your volunteers to a coffee or lunch but don’t use it! Pay for it yourself and don’t tell anyone what you did. Yes, it may not make sense but I believe God honors that. Not in the sense that if you spend $10 God will repay you $20, but in the sense that your ministry will be blessed by treating others like that. If you don’t have the money, then think about ways you can show appreciation that don’t cost any money. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
I’ve written notes, given shout outs on social media, gave meaningful thank you speeches, and bragged about volunteers. I once had a Children’s Ministry volunteer who loved Milano cookies. I didn’t even know what they were, but I decided to buy some and bring them in. He was blown away. It only cost a few dollars but it made his and his family’s day. Totally worth it!