The four appreciation languages

Appreciating volunteers

Do you know the appreciation languages of the volunteers in your organization?

You may have heard of “love languages,” the different ways that people show love to each other. According to Gary Chapman, in his book “The 5 Love Languages,” people have a “language” they prefer others use when showing them love. I won’t go into details here but if you’re interested, check out the book.

The reason I bring this up is because there are similar languages for appreciation, and if you can learn a volunteer’s appreciation language, you can go a long way to engaging them more effectively.

There are four appreciation languages:

1. Informal thank yous,

2. Tangible gratitude,

3. Public acknowledgement

4. Opportunities for growth

Let’s take a closer look.

Informal thank yous are just that.

Some volunteers just want the proverbial “pat on the back”. Nothing fancy. Just hearing that someone has seen what they did and found it valuable makes them feel special. The way to take this up a notch is to be really specific about what you’re thanking them for. A “great job today” is nice, but “Thank you for cleaning up the storeroom. It will save everyone a ton of time as everything is so organized now” would mean a lot more. It elevates the impact of the words. And remember, when you tell someone whose appreciation language is informal thank yous, that they’ve made your day, it makes their day.

Small gifts, or tangible gratitude, means a lot to some volunteers.

For some volunteers, knowing that you made the effort to choose something that they would like, or took the time to hand-write a card, makes them feel valued. It doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive, just something that shows that you were thinking about them and that the difference they are making was important enough for you to make that effort. It puts a bow on it – even if it’s just a coffee card. Bows and ribbons make things feel more like gifts.

Public acknowledgement is my favourite of the appreciation languages.

Many volunteers like other people to see what they’ve done has been recognized. They’re often the ones who, if you post about their accomplishments on social media, will forward the acknowledgement to all their friends. They can be the best volunteers for raising awareness of your organization because they love to talk and post about their volunteering. If you have volunteers who have public acknowledgement as their appreciation language, make a point of offering your gratitude where others can see/hear it. It will make the volunteer feel warm all over.

The final language is opportunities for growth.

Not all volunteers help out because of pure altruism. A lot volunteer because they see benefit to themselves from doing so. And there’s nothing wrong with that (check out my blog on selfish volunteers). A volunteer whose appreciation language is opportunities for growth is less interested in having you say thank you and more interested in new training or experiences. A volunteer like this can easily end up becoming one of your most valuable volunteers, as they are constantly looking for ways to get better. If you regularly provide those ways, they will stick around and use that training or experience to benefit the organization.

Each of the appreciation languages is valuable.

One isn’t better or worse than the others. The important thing is to use the one (or sometimes two) that best suits a particular volunteer. Every volunteer is different, and what one would thrive on would leave another cold.

For example, as I mentioned, my appreciation language is public acknowledgement. I admit it, I have a need for attention and admiration. So when someone thanks me publicly for something, it feeds my heart.

My husband, on the other hand, would just want them to stop. He wouldn’t feel appreciated, he would feel embarrassed. His appreciation language is informal thank yous.

You may wonder why a desire to make a difference isn’t one of the languages.

Wanting to make a difference is the reason why most people volunteer. They may see the value of what they’re doing, and get satisfaction out of it, but that’s different than feeling appreciated. It is a more internal, personal thing. Appreciation is about someone else valuing your work.

What is your appreciation language?

It’s important to know it. It’s more important to know the languages of the volunteers we lead. That’s how we can make them feel as valued as we know they are.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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