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Three Cheers for Volunteers

Carmen Kamrath

My husband, Dan, is a humble guy. He's never been one to toot his horn about his accomplishments or abilities. One afternoon I received an official-looking letter from Dan's company. Nervously, I opened the envelope and began reading what turned out to be amazing praise about my husband. From Dan's work ethic to his personal integrity, his boss had taken time to write detailed praise about Dan's work on the team. When my husband came home that night, I shared the letter with him. He was visibly moved by the words in the letter and impressed that his boss had recognized his humble nature by sharing his accomplishments with others-something he'd never do on his own. Dan's boss took the time to recognize him in a fantastic way.

Recognizing others isn't always easy or convenient-but it's a critical part of maintaining the health of your team and being a good volunteer manager. And when the holidays creep up and perhaps we've once again procrastinated buying volunteer gifts, it's easy-and oh-so-tempting-to resort to a generic trinket in a gift bag or a $5 gift card stuffed in an impersonal Christmas greeting. How can we truly let volunteers know how much we appreciate them throughout the year? A little spying, a dash of snooping, and a pinch of ingenuity can change your volunteer affirmations from blah to brilliant.

The Perfect Gift
I love giving; that is, I love finding the perfect gift for someone. You know, the special gift that brings a surprised smile or an "ahhh" when unwrapped. You can master the art of high-impact gift giving with these tips.

Spy-I have three kids, and I affirm each in a unique way. I affirm Josh with touch-a hug or a back rub always makes him smile. Alysia loves gifts, so finding the perfect item delights her. Megan prefers my time, so whether we're cooking or watching a movie, I know it's time well spent. Each of us has a communication style, or love language, through which we best respond to affirmation.

How can you know your volunteers' love language? They'll speak it if you just listen closely. Observe the ways your volunteers show love to their kids. Typically people communicate love in the way they best receive it. And until you've determined a volunteer's primary style, continue expressing appreciation regularly and often.

Use these tips to fluently speak your volunteers' love language.


Physical Touch-A hug, handshake, or high-five affirms these touchy-feely folks.
Words of Affirmation-Spoken or written words of encouragement and praise lets these volunteers know you appreciate them.
Quality Time-A chat-happy coffee break or weekend excursion for supplies communicates you value and appreciate a volunteer who loves time with you.
Gifts-Gifts that go beyond a general thank you are perfect for volunteers who love receiving presents. Delight these volunteers with gifts that complement their personal likes and interests.
Acts of Service-Some volunteers are inspired by service, so speak their appreciation language by serving them. Deliver a home-cooked meal on a busy weeknight or provide free baby-sitting for a date night.

Snoop-A good reporter gathers the facts before writing an award-winning story. Likewise, as a good leader, you need "the scoop" on your volunteers to express gratitude effectively. Put on your sleuthing hat!

Go to the Source. Use your initial volunteer applications to gather information about spiritual gifts, career information, and personal interests. Include an interest survey in your application that asks questions such as favorite vacation spots, leisure time preferences, and the best gift they've ever received. Keep this information and update it periodically so you can customize affirmation when it's time to say thanks.
Question Informants. Talk to those who know your volunteers best. Ask spouses, children, best friends, or small group leaders for affirmation ideas. Be a creative questioner to get specific ideas: "What gift or gesture would you give Ana to spoil her for the day?" "What's Terry's favorite food or coffee?" "What would Benjamin really enjoy but never buy for himself?"

Surprise-Volunteers expect that you'll offer your thanks on holidays and birthdays, so affirmations are fun and often more effective when recipients least expect them. Adding the element of surprise multiplies delight and lets volunteers know you appreciate them always.

Try these out-of-the-ordinary times to celebrate your volunteers.


Busted!-When you observe a volunteer doing more than is expected or required, let that person know you notice. Give a "ticket"-to the movies, a baseball game, or a cooking class (tailor-made for that person's interests).
Good News-Your volunteers are more than likely involved in the community beyond your church. When someone makes the news (assuming it's good), celebrate. Throw an ice cream party for the volunteer's Sunday school class in honor of that person being newsworthy.
Just Because-Nothing warms people's hearts like hearing "Thank you" when they aren't expecting it. On those Sundays when diaper duty goes beyond the norm, give your crew sweet-smelling candles as a thank you for keeping the nursery calm and fresh. Occasionally slip a note on someone's door or leave a message on the answering machine offering encouragement and specific reasons you appreciate the person.

Surprise affirmations keep your team fresh and excited about serving in ministry. When word gets out about how much you shower your team with appreciation, others will wonder how they can be part of your volunteer team.

Gifts Galore
Not everyone has the gift of giving, so we've got a little help for you.


Gifter Giving-If you dread shopping to find that perfect gift or if you stop to purchase a birthday gift on the way to the party your child's attending, you may want to seek out a "gifter." Find a volunteer who loves finding the perfect gift or who researches a person's interests days before going shopping. Enlist your gifter's help with affirming and appreciating your volunteers. Click here for affirmation ideas under $2!
A Night on the Town-This is a great gift for the family who doesn't have a baby-sitting network or who's always giving time for their kids' activities. Send one of your nursery caregivers to the home for the evening and provide gift cards for a dinner and movie date night.
Hear Ye! Hear Ye!-Your VBS team just pulled off the best week ever! You may not be able to send them to Disneyland, but you can publicly let the community know how much you appreciate their outstanding work. Place an ad in the local newspaper that says thanks and includes individual names.
Thanks for the Memories-Create a scrapbook for a volunteer who's served faithfully for multiple years. Include photos and letters from children presently in the volunteer's class as well as children with memories from years past.
Head Relief-Do you have a volunteer who's stressed? overwhelmed? A gift certificate for a chair massage might be the perfect 30-minute getaway.
Fifth Quarter-Send a team of avid sports fans to represent your ministry at a local sports event (so they can cheer on their favorite team!). Or host a game-day party at your church, complete with tailgate party and the sanctuary big screen.
Give 'Em a Hand-Print, that is. For the volunteer who cherishes the kids in her class, have children stamp their handprint and name on a special T-shirt for this beloved teacher.
Red Rover, Red Rover-Send a pet-sitter right over. Many people have trouble finding someone to care for pets while they're on vacation. Help out by finding someone to care for the family's furry best friend-free of charge-while they're away.
A Worthy Memo-Employers should know what a great contribution their employee is making in the community. Send a letter of praise to a volunteer's boss to share how your volunteer is making a difference in kids' lives.
Late Night Study Session-If you have college student volunteers, they frequently experience late nights writing papers and cramming for tests. When you know the pressure's on, send pizza to their dorm rooms to fuel them into the wee hours.
Productive Commute-For volunteers who commute to work or your ministry, surprise them with an audio book to make stop-and-go driving more enjoyable.
Services Rendered-Ask business owners in your church or community to provide services occasionally for your volunteers. A free oil change, car wash, haircut, or photography session are all welcome surprises for busy volunteers.
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No matter how you show your volunteers how much you appreciate the time and love they give to the children in your ministry, do it often. Whether it's a pat on the shoulder, words of praise, or a personalized gift, your volunteers need to know they're valued and loved.

Carmen Kamrath is the associate editor for Children's Ministry Magazine.

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