The Four Appreciation Languages

four appreciation languages

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” that they prefer others use when showing them love. I won’t go into details here; 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, and
  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 handwrite 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. That the difference they are making was important enough for you to make that effort. And put 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 that 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.

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