Flowers aren’t for everyone: showing appreciation for your volunteers

chloe-williamsPart of NCVO’s International Volunteer Managers Day 2015 series.

Chloe Williams is a local fundraising manager for Cancer Research UK. Her role includes supporting volunteer fundraisers in Kent and overseas. Chloe is also a volunteer with the Scout Association.

Volunteer managers are vital in keeping volunteers motivated, supported and engaged. One key way they do this is by recognising just how much their hard work, time and skills are valued and appreciated.

Sometimes, on birthdays or at Christmas, you open a present and have to practice your ’that’s exactly what I wanted!’ face, when it’s exactly what you didn’t want. It makes you question how much thought they actually put into choosing the present – do they know you at all? Cliché as it sounds, it really is the thought that counts, and thanking a volunteer is no exception.

Our volunteers give up their evenings and weekends, their holidays and their time with loved ones to help us raise money and awareness to ultimately beat cancer sooner. The very least we can do is make sure that when we say thank you, we say it in the right way.

The skill lies in remembering that what works for one volunteer doesn’t always work for another. While some supporters would value more public recognition or a call from a senior staff member, others simply appreciate cake and coffee with you or a no-fuss, no-frills thank you. When we say thank you in the wrong way, it can be worse than not saying thank you at all.

Getting it wrong

One of my very first experiences of trying to say thank you to a supporter fell totally flat on its face because I didn’t understand what was important to her. I’d realised pretty quickly that this was someone who had quietly gone out of her way to be a great fundraiser and, in my eyes, wasn’t getting enough recognition for what she was achieving.

I knew that I wanted to say thank you to show how much I appreciated what she did for CRUK, so I presented her with a lovely bunch of flowers in front of 400 men and gave a speech about how amazing she was. The look of embarrassment on her face as she walked on stage to collect her flowers is etched in my mind.

How do you get it right?

Thanking our supporters is vital to ensuring our long lasting, and beneficial relationships. So how do you get it right?

  • There’s no rush! – Make sure your thank you is planned and executed well.
  • One size doesn’t fit all – Get to know your volunteer and make your thank you bespoke.
  • Why? – Think about what motivates your volunteer to support CRUK and how that will shape the way in which you say thank you.
  • Where? – Make sure you say thank you in the right place. Is it a quiet thank you or would an acknowledgement in front of friends be more welcomed? Do they want a success shared publically or is that not important to them?
  • Is it appropriate? – Think about what the volunteer has done for the charity and what sort of person they are to ensure that your thank you mirrors this. It’s no good inviting someone to a posh lunch if they would feel out of place.
  • What will they think? – Spending money on a thank you might not be well received by some. Think about whether a unique, personal gift might be better received than something more expensive.

Taking my own advice

What happened to that supporter who got the flowers? The following year, I listened, understood what she wanted to achieve for CRUK and secured some funding to help her realise her ambitions. She saw that CRUK believed in her and felt appreciated through the extra time and money we had invested into her event. As a result she felt valued, I have a great relationship with her and she has raised an additional £10,000! Saying thank you to our volunteers really can help support them to beat cancer sooner, we just need to do it in the right way.

Guidance and resources

NCVO has resources to help you say thank you to your volunteers. You can download the NCVO Quick Guide to Thanking Volunteers and read guidance on how reward and recognition can help you retain your volunteers.


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