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.
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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
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
Use these tips to fluently speak your volunteers’ love
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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.
Not everyone has the gift of giving, so we’ve got a little help for
• 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
• 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
• 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.
• • •
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
Carmen Kamrath is the associate editor for Children’s