The Only Two Words You’ll Need to Inspire Your Volunteer Team.

If you work with a volunteer team, chances are, you have run into the issue of motivating those volunteers and spend a lot of time thinking of ways to engage and make them feel valued.

The pressure of thinking of ways to keep volunteers feeling valued can be tough work.

I’m about to help solve all your problems with two simple little words…

Are you ready?

Here it goes.

The only two words you need to inspire your volunteer team are…

“Thank you.”

Was that a little too anti-climatic?

Sorry. I know it isn’t the most complex solution, but it honestly works.

Let me prove it…

With science.

1) Even a little “Thank You” makes a difference.

Sometimes leaders get caught up trying to think of ways to express themselves with elaborate phrases. But you don’t have to give a long, drawn-out speech to show your team you’re grateful.

A study was done with groups of college students who were getting help writing a cover letter and resume. The students were split into two groups: a control group and an experimental group. Each group received help, those who gave suggestions and edits were paid for their services, and the two groups were asked to send a note to say their edits were received. The control group posted a note that said they received the edited letter and then asked for additional help on other cover letters. After receiving that note, 32% of the editors agreed to offer more suggestions to the control group. Not bad. However, when it came time for the students in the experimental group to send their note, they included a short sentence at the end, “Thank you so much. I’m really grateful.” What’s interesting, is students in this group who expressed a small sentence of gratitude, more than doubled the offers of help to 66%.

Two sentences. Less than seven words. And people’s willingness to help the students a second time more than doubled.

A simple phrase. A few moments taken to indicate gratitude. A total game changer.

2) Saying “Thank You” can strengthen relationships.

Saying “Thank You” can also strengthen your relationships with your volunteer team. Not only does that show you are grateful for all the work they do, but you are demonstrating an interest in them as a person. It shows care and acknowledgment of effort.

Remarkably, something that simple can have a substantial positive outcome on relationships.

Researchers questioned 468 married individuals about finances, communication, and expressions of spousal gratitude. The results showed spousal appreciation was the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality. In other words, spouses who were told “thank you” were happier in their marriage. The study also found that even when couples were engaged in negative conflict behaviors, expressions of gratitude and appreciation counteracted or buffered negative outcomes.

The act of saying “thank you” is emotional.

According to Peter Bregman “Saying “thank you” doesn’t just acknowledge someone’s effort, thoughtfulness, intent, or action. It acknowledges the person himself.”

Just one more way to more deeply connect with people.

The moral of this research? Saying, “thank you” can bolster connections.

3) Your team doesn’t hear “Thank You” enough.

There are many reasons why saying “Thank You” has become less frequent.

One article claims that the lack in verbal expressions of gratitude (at least for trivial favors like passing the salt) is a global phenomenon and has more to do with an expectation of cooperation than rudeness. According to the article, most people are merely taking for granted that as a team we cooperate. As the saying goes, “no thanks are necessary.”

The research showed that people expressed thanks only once every 20 interactions. English speaking countries tended to be a bit higher in expressing thanks than other nations, however, according to this particular study, expressions of gratitude were still only witnessed in 14.5% of conversations recorded.

Leaders can fall into this trap as well. Our thoughts might run along the path of: Our volunteers should know that we’re grateful! It’s obvious. We clearly couldn’t run this organization without them. They must know that. Saying thank you would just be redundant and possibly even annoying. If I thanked them for EVERY single little thing, it would waste my time and theirs. Besides, that sounds completely exhausting.

Here’s the problem with that mindset. We often significantly underestimate the impact of a “thank you.”

In this 2018 study, participants in three experiments were asked to write gratitude letters and then attempt to predict how happy, surprised, or awkward recipients would feel. Later, recipients reported how they would actually feel receiving an expression of gratitude. The results found that expressers greatly underestimated surprise, overestimated awkwardness, and underestimated positive reactions from recipients.

Leaders may feel those same fears of potential awkwardness, surprise, and discomfort associated with saying “Thank You.” Fight those feelings. Even if your volunteers know you are grateful for their work, it is still meaningful for them to hear it.

Here are a few practical takeaways.

Be specific. Thank team members for specific tasks/behaviors/actions. “Thank you, Derek, for treating that angry customer so well even after she yelled at you.” “Sarah, thank you for helping Ruth with that project this week.”

Be thoughtful. Yes, we should thank our team for all their work, but the most meaningful gratitude is done through observation. Pay attention to what your team is investing their time on and comment on that effort.

Be creative. Write a thank you note. Publicly thank someone during a team meeting. Post a shout-out on social media. Leave a voicemail. Saying thanks can be a fun, creative experience. There’s no one “right” way of showing your gratitude. *Quick caveat: However you decide to say thanks, make sure it’s a format that makes the recipient feel at ease. Some people are not comfortable receiving public attention. You want them to feel valued and motivated, not uncomfortable. A good resource for leaders who want to show their team value in a way that is most meaningful is The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

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