Words Cannot Express

Every volunteer appreciates an occasional “thank you,” especially when delivered in a creative and (often) unexpected form.

Who came two hours early to help set up for the big event? Who brought the doughnuts and cider for the pack meeting? Who spent five vacation days running the crafts area at Cub day camp? Chances are it was a volunteer, a dedicated parent, or community-spirited individual, without whom Scouting couldn’t happen.

Unfortunately, volunteers sometimes can be taken for granted. Like the time I drove three hours and spent a full day on a volunteer project, only to be dismissed with, “Thanks for coming and please empty the trash on your way out.” I left feeling unappreciated and reluctant to offer any more time or effort to that particular group.

A SIMPLE ‘THANK YOU’

Of course, volunteers don’t expect to be paid, but in Scouting we try to offer them something that is often appreciated as much as payment and sometimes even more—recognition.

As a Scout leader, you’ll have many occasions to recognize individuals who help make the program happen. Sometimes a sincere pat on the back will do, but every so often you’ll want to try something a little more creative.

In my years of Scouting, I have seen a simple thank you take many forms, including a formal plaque, a shower of confetti, a silly serenade, a squirt gun salute, and (my personal favorite) chocolate.

I know a Cubmaster who presents his den leaders with a small token at the monthly pack meeting. A box of raisins (a “raisin” pay) or mini-packet of Cheerios (“hip, hip, hooray!”) does the job of making his volunteers feel valued in their role as leaders.

SOME WINNING IDEAS

If you are pressed for ideas that go a little beyond the computer-generated certificate, here are 20 fun ways to show your volunteers they are appreciated and valued.

  1. Make sure each volunteer has a name tag (a big one!) so everyone will recognize that individual as a part of the team and can address him or her by name.
  2. Have each volunteer wear a bright, colorful hat during the event.
  3. Slap a large “Great Work!” or “Outstanding!” sticker on the volunteer’s back.
  4. Decorate the volunteers with streamers and confetti at the closing ceremony.
  5. Glue something sparkly on inexpensive sunglasses and present them with an Elvis impersonation, “Thank you, thank you very much.”
  6. Deliver a bag of chips or a soda during the event.
  7. Have the Scouts serenade the volunteers with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” during the awards ceremony.
  8. Have a staff table with treats for the volunteers.
  9. During the event, drop a treasure in the volunteer’s pocket: a glass stone, a party-size candy bar, or a theme-related trinket.
  10. Present a special neckerchief slide made by the Cub Scouts.
  11. Play a recording of the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Rocky,” or “Chariots of Fire,” while calling the volunteers forward for recognition during the closing ceremony.
  12. Have Cub Scouts sign a shirt or pillowcase for the volunteers.
  13. “Pay” the volunteers in chocolate coins, Nestlé 100 Grand bars, or Hershey Payday bars.
  14. Thank them a “‘hole lot” with “doughnut holes” or a “hole-y” (cut up) T-shirt.
  15. Thank them for “lending a hand” by presenting a garden glove filled with candies or stuffed with sponge or crumpled newspaper.
  16. Tell them your “cup runneth over” with gratitude, and present a dollar-store mug with an envelope of instant hot chocolate inside.
  17. Start an “Extra Miler” tradition with a well-tattered sneaker. Each year it can be signed by an especially hard-working volunteer and then displayed at pack or troop meetings.
  18. Teach the Cub Scouts to say gracias (Spanish), vielen dank (German), merci (French), anddomo arigato (Japanese), and thank the volunteers four different ways.
  19. Say, “You rock!” and give your volunteers rock candy or a special stone.
  20. End an event with a “note of thanks” by giving the pitch and having all the Cub Scouts sing, “Tha-a-a-anks” in unison until you stop them with a grand flourish.

You get the idea. The point to remember is that everyone craves recognition. All helpers want to be appreciated for the good things they do. Recognition doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. It only needs to express how glad you are for each person’s presence and help.

When you make the effort to creatively say thanks, you will very likely be signing up that same helper for future events. In the end, recognizing a volunteer will make both of you feel like a million bucks.

Now that’s what I call a paycheck.

Freelance writer and Scouter Laura Biggs lives in Front Royal, Va.


Where to Find ‘Thank You’ Help

In addition to your own creativity, these resources will help you compile a list of great thank-you ideas.

Start with the “Special Awards” section on pages 1-4 to 1-9 in the Cub Scout Leader How-To Book(BSA No. 33832A). And the monthly meeting plans in Cub Scout Program Helps (No. 34304) often include ideas for simple recognition ceremonies and stunts. The BSA Supply Division catalog also offers a wide variety of award items.

Next, check your local library or bookstore for two helpful books by Sue Vineyard: Recognizing Volunteers and Paid Staff: The Art, the Science, and a GAZILLION Ideas! (Heritage Arts, 2001) and Beyond Banquets, Plaques and Pins: Creative Ways to Recognize Volunteers (Heritage Arts, 1989).

Then hop on the Internet to find products and ideas for recognizing volunteers.

The Thanks Company [www.thankscompany.com, 114 Cone St., P.O. Box 220, Cherryville, NC 28021-0220, (888) 875-0903] offers everything from balloons, buttons, and bookmarks priced under $1, to hats, totes, and T-shirts, for under $10. They also host a forum for sharing recognition ideas.

VolunCHEER [www.voluncheer.com, (888) 454-1340] specializes in items for thanking volunteers, like certificates, mugs, totes, candles, T-shirts, and more.

Energize Inc. [www.energizeinc.com, 5450 Wissahickon Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19144, (800) 395-9800] provides a clearinghouse for volunteer-related resources, including idea books and forums, and links to online vendors of recognition items.

—L.B.

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