Essential Words Leaders Need to Speak to Their Volunteers

A lot of organizations have volunteer workers. The people who lead volunteers know the importance of finding and then retaining workers. This requires speaking some essential words to volunteers.

I have volunteered and led volunteers. After several years of experience being around volunteer workers I believe the true test of leadership is the ability to successfully lead volunteers. While this is true I think many CEO’s, executives, and managers would have a hard time leading volunteers, if not fail completely. This is because it requires pure influence to lead volunteers and not power or authority.

Volunteers freely put their time and energy into helping a cause. They are free to stop volunteering at any time without fear of losing their wellbeing (Money, job, security, etc.) They can chose to follow the leader or not. This is why I believe that if you can lead volunteers well then you can lead anyone. When it comes to influencing volunteer workers, people need to frequently hear these words from their leader:

Your valuable- The people who volunteer need to know they are valuable and what they are doing counts. If people know they are valued they will in turn show value toward the cause.

I believe in you- This words shows people you care and matter. It gives people confidence and courage to get outside of their comfort zone while volunteering.

Thank you-This word must be on the tip of every leader’s tongue. Thanking people for their time, effort, and for volunteering is so important. It’s wise to remember that a leader can’t over thank a volunteer worker. Thanking can be done verbally, in writing, by providing resources, or through gifts.

You make a difference-This shows that an individual or team effort is accomplishing something of great. Volunteering is all about making a difference in society and people need to know they are playing a role in causing that difference.

I appreciative your time-I know when I volunteer I consider these words valuable. This is because the leader has recognized that I took the time out of my busy schedule to volunteer. It shows my time and talents matter.

What do you think-This shows volunteers their ideas and thoughts matter. These words allow problems to be solved and the organization to become better.

Questions: What other essential words should a leader speak to their volunteers? Have you spoken these words to your volunteers or have you had these words spoken to you?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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56 thoughts on “Essential Words Leaders Need to Speak to Their Volunteers

  1. As always great content Dan.

    I made a habit years ago to do my best to personally walk around and thank people for volunteering. I know that I like when someone say thank you and they appreciate the time I put into something so I figure others will too. Funny thing is my times I get people thanking me for thanking them.

  2. I think the part about appreciating someone’s time is so crucial. So often, leaders project an attitude that the volunteers are there to serve the leader because he or she is so busy. Purposefully saying that you value a volunteer’s time really helps establish more of a peer to peer relationship.

    • I like your point Loren. I think leaders will get greater feedback and more volunteering in the future if they feel they are a peer and not a “worker”.

    • Loren,

      A big aspect of this is a leader being intentional and regularly telling their volunteers that their time is valued. I don’t think a every time a leader needs to say, “I value your time” but their are other words they can speak that will show them that their time is valuable. Great point about a “peer to peer relationship.”

      Thank you for taking the time to share.

  3. I love all these- I know they make me feel good, so of course they make others feel good too. Thanks for the reminder to use our words to build people up. We can’t just assume people know we appreciate them, believe in them, value them or anything else.

    Words are powerful, we should use them wisely!

    • TC Avey,

      Good point. I think a lot of leaders assume people already know they are appreciated so they don’t speak or show their appreciation. This has happened to me both as a volunteer and at my job. When I did hear the leader show appreciation it was like a breath of fresh air.

      Thank you sharing your wise insight.

  4. Dan, this is my favorite post of yours yet! You are spot on that most C-level corporate leaders could learn some valuable skills from those who lead volunteers. Actually we all could. What if we treated people like this even if they weren’t helping our cause. Those are all very powerful words and have the power to change lives daily. Again, a great post! Thanks for being faithful to post great encouraging content Dan!

    • Mark,

      I’m really glad you enjoyed the post. I think its a topic we all need to remember every once in a while. Great point about, “treating people like this even if they weren’t helping our cause.”

      I think it would be beneficial if company’s started rewarding people/ management for volunteering. It would be practical and hands on leadership training. The skills and lessons they learn could be carried into their career.

      Thank you for adding to the post.

  5. This isn’t something a a leader does and doesn’t say, but I think the leader needs to value their time as well (This fits in nicely under appreciating their time). For example, at a church I used to be a part of, all of the volunteers got burnt out because the leaders would put too much on them (including the unfavorable “voluntelling” when someone is told to do something instead of volunteering). When a volunteer’s time isn’t valued, they can begin to feel used and unappreciated.

    • Rob,

      What a great example of what a leader should not do, especially with volunteers. It sounds like the leader thought the volunteers got paid. It’s hard to see a volunteer worker burnt out and unmotivated because of not being appreciated.

      I think this is a topic every church leader needs to know and remember.

      I would also add that the congregation should use these words with the leadership team. Most people don’t know or understand the challenge and how hard it is to be a paid staff. I have never been a paid staff but have been in a leadership positing within my church, where I saw what the leadership team went through.

      Thank you for sharing the example and your insights.

  6. Good thoughts here Dan. After our previous Building Team leader got mad and dumped the Team and left them and the need in limbo, the other leaders suggested that if anything was to get done it would have to be me. So I regrouped with the Building Team (without the other guy) and we got to it. I try to remind them on a consistent basis how much I appreciate their input, their sacrifice, their time, and their ideas, and their vision for the space-need we have. I think it has been important to say so, since they didn’t get it before.

    • Bill,

      What great words, “consistent basis” so important to regularly show appreciation to your people. It shows them you care and value their work. Thank you for being a senior pastor who takes the time to speak positive words into your people.

  7. Here are a few more that always help:

    We missed you: It’s always nice to know that they noticed you weren’t there

    I see you are improving in….

    You’re going to surpass me one day

    • Joe,

      Great additional words!!!

      I personally have felt valued because of a leader saying they have missed me when I was gone.

      Glad you shared them because these words are so important.

    • Joe: I like “you’re going to surpass me one day.” That’s the true essence of a real leader – making paths straight for future leader.

      • Exactly Jamie. Leaders need to be building leaders and acknowledging the fact that one day they will be surpassed. It builds the confidence needed to advance and take the steps to become a more competent leader.

  8. I have spoken these words and they are true and needed. A lack of appreciation won’t get you anymore volunteers the next time they’re needed. I think not saying these words is a form of pride, great post Dan.

    • Kimanzi,

      Totally agree with you about a leader deals or has pride if they don’t say these words to others. Prideful people want all the power and credit and have a hard time sharing it. This effects the organization when it comes to having a bad leader and retaining volunteers. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  9. I think you’ve hit all the key words to speak to volunteers. I’ve seen, though, that how you treat your volunteers is more important then what you say. You can tell them all you want that you appreciate them, but if you’re demanding more out of them than you do paid staff (I’ve been in that situation many times personally), then your words are pretty empty.

    • Jason,

      A leaders words and actions defiantly need to be lined up together. It might be easier to speak these words then actually back up your words with your actions and behaviors. When this happens both paid staff and volunteers are demotivated and not entirely committed to the cause.

      Thank you for adding valuable insights. I really appreciate it.

  10. Our facility is a busy 750 bed hospital. We would be absolutely paralyzed without the help of volunteers. We always show gratitude to them by saying “Thank You”, and more importantly, just smiling and saying “Good Morning” in passing.

    ESPECIALLY when we don’t need something from them.

    Great post Dan. Thanks for your great insight on this often overlooked topic.

    • Scott,

      Taking time to show appreciation is a must, which must be hard because of the fast pass working environment, but its so important to take the time to show appreciation.

      Thank you for sharing. The key for everyone should be to show appreciation to others on a daily basis.

  11. I couldn’t agree more, Dan

    In the past, I wasn’t always great at leading volunteer teams, though that came with the territory (church). But I have since grown to verbally appreciate people, as well as actively seek their input. Volunteers aren’t looking for great things/rewards, it’s the little things from team leaders which matter and keep them motivated, feel valued.

    Great post.

    • Ngina,

      Glad to hear you have learned to be a better team leader. So true, volunteers don’t look for big rewards they just need to know and feel they are valued. Which can be done through small acts of kindness.

      Glad you stopped by to share these insight.

  12. I’m working on these, have the Thank you one down now to work on the others. They make a difference when I hear them so I can imagine the difference they’d make with me saying them to others.

  13. “Get ahead of me!”
    “Outrun me!”
    “Overtake me!”

    Leaders should train their team members to be better than themselves. Leaders should make the team feel less intimated and encourage them to take over their seats, so that leaders can move upward to be greater things. Great leaders produces even greater leaders.

    • Jamie,

      Great additions!!! Very insightful thoughts. Really like your statement, “Great leaders produces even greater leaders.” I’ll have to write that down and think on it even more.

      Thank you for adding to the discussion.

      • Thank you, Dan. It’s my pleasure to share here. I believe real leaders are not afraid to pass the baton. Because they are merely the mediator between the team and their successes. Real leader helps his team to reach their destinations.

        Once again, thank you for guest posting on my humble blog.

        • Jamie,

          Great points. The goal of a true leader is to work themselves out of a job by developing and raising up leaders.

          Glad I was able to be a guest poster on your blog. Thank you.

  14. There’s a guy at work who always says “I appreciate you.”

    It’s always a bit shocking to hear that coming from a co-manager, but it really is a powerful thing.

    I’ve started to say it to other people as well. It lets them know they mean something to you and to the organization.

    • Andrew,

      It’s great to hear an example of people using these words. You and your co-manager are making a difference because of your positive words. Thank you for sharing.

  15. I volunteer as an elementary-aged Sunday school teacher. The children’s pastor, on the months I teach, in an email thanks us for our servant’s heart, but that’s just about it. There is little encouragement otherwise.

    I also volunteer as a teacher for Junior Achievement. The coordinator is always encouraging. In fact, I became aware that there was a board meeting a couple of days ago and she was singing my praises because I had taken the initiative to go above and beyond what I was originally assigned to do. That definitely made me feel good and is encouraging to me to keep going and perhaps volunteer for the next school year.

    • Thomas,

      An email is good but should not be the only thing to show people appreciation. Know your doing a great work and making a big difference in the life’s of children.

      It sounds like the coordinator does a great job at encouraging and uplift the people who volunteer. What a great example of the power of words and what they can do for us.

      Thank you for taking the time to share these wonderful examples.

  16. Dan, its really a matter of commitment. Once you have clearly outlined what the focus is in your volunteering organization and they have declared that they are on board with the organization its going to take a HUGE effort to keep that in front of them. Showing them and reminding them of their commitment. Also, Thanking them for what they do as with any Volunteer you don’t want to burn them out. You want to make sure they remain inspired to do GREAT things.

    • Lincoln Parks,

      I think the commitment level goes up or down through the words a leader speaks to their volunteers. I know when these words are spoken to me my commitment to the cause increases but if no one is encouraging or using these words I start to become frustrated and lose focus of what I’m doing. Which can lead to burnout. I have been apart of both scenarios. I really appreciate your comment.

  17. I think this is a very needed post since there are many volunteers who feel rejected and there are many leaders who do not know how to manage their volunteers well. As you said, “it requires pure influence to lead volunteers and not power or authority”. Great points!

    • Stephen,

      Thank you for reading. I was first a volunteer and have had first had experience with leaders who spoke and did not speak these words, which helped me when I began to lead volunteers.