A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way

A board colleague and I recently had a conversation about volunteer directors and the often lacklustre send-off they are given when stepping off a board (even after a significant number of years’ service).

Only a few days later, I had a similar conversation with another board colleague. This time about the lack of recognition that current board members were receiving.

Given that we recently celebrated Thanksgiving (the perks of having an American husband), and that tomorrow (December 5) is International Volunteer Day, I wanted to place a spotlight on the importance of thanking people, and thanking them well.

Before I go on, I hope that you all have some sort of ‘giving thanks’ practice within your organisations; either when someone goes above and beyond to achieve something great, or has willingly committed their personal time to support the business and its purpose.

Sadly, only 15% of people say thank you at work, and 35% of people have managers who have never said thank you.*

These are sad statistics. Particularly when, often all someone needs is a heartfelt and sincere “thank you” delivered in person or via a handwritten card. At the core of it, people like to receive validation that their contributions are meaningful and valued. Through my experiences working with volunteer directors, I have noticed that showing gratitude rarely has to be grand and expensive.

The Research

A study conducted by Francesca Gino and Adam Grant showed that when an expression of gratitude occurs, the helper feels more valued. And it reinforces that their contributions were useful and appreciated. In turn, when the helper receives another request for help from the person who thanked them, they are much more likely to help again (and are more likely to help other people who they have never helped beforehand).

Furthermore, the positive feelings associated with receiving thanks resulted in an increase in productivity (by around 50% in their study!).

Luckily, it turns out that a ‘thank you’ also has benefits for the person giving thanks. Gino and Grant refer to studies showing that taking stock of your blessings can have a powerful psychological and physical effect. People who regularly give thanks are more “… attentive, alert, energetic, and feel happy about life in general.” Physically, “… when people were recording things for which they were grateful, they ended up engaging in more healthy related behaviors [such as regular exercise, better sleep, and less illness].”

How to Give Meaningful Thanks

As we have mentioned, showing your gratitude does not have to be grand and expensive. A recent article on HBR.com outlined seven ways that you can turn a stock-standard “thanks” into something meaningful and connected to the individual you are thanking, without needing to spend a fortune.

Volunteering Australia also has this list of 101 ways to recogise volunteers.


Whether your team is paid or unpaid, and commits a few hours a month, or a few days, a little thanks goes a long way. What better day to do it than International Volunteer Day?!

* refer to HBR.org for details on Gino and Grant’s work and research on giving thanks.


International Volunteer Day





Subscribe to Receive Access to Articles, Resources, and Tools to Support Your Board Goals.

* indicates required