What do The Five Languages of Love have to do with volunteer recognition?

What do The Five Languages of Love  have to do with volunteer recognition?

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People, Gary Chapman and Paul White, Northfield Publishing, Chicago. 2011.

Several weeks ago I met Chris Moss of Moss Leadership to talk about a community project.  After we concluded our discussion about the project , and we veared off into a discussion about what motivates people in their work and volunteer lives, and how best to show appreciation and recognition.  After I conveyed to her my firm commitment to the need for a broad based and flexible approach to volunteer recognition, she commented that it was reminiscent of the “Five Languages of Love” by Gary Chapman. This piqued my curiousity and I went in search of the book.

In my search I discovered Gary Chapman has partnered with Paul White to adapt the central concepts of the “5 Languages of Love”   to the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. It has been a long held conviction of mine that volunteer retention is inextricably tied to meeting the intrinsic needs of the volunteer. Beyond the many pragmatic reasons people have for volunteering are the core human needs that people seek to meet such as the need for connection, community and meaning. How we, as volunteer managers, master the art and process of recognition and appreciation is a key part of our volunteer’s sense of connection, community and contribution to our organizations.

According to Chapman and White the 5 languages of appreciation are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Act of Service, Tangible Gifts, and Physical Touch. What is key here is not the revelation that people need to feel appreciated and validated by those around them, and that what they do matters, it is that how this gets expressed to them also matters. What Chapman and White have articulated so beautifully is that if appreciation is not conveyed in the “language” that is meaningful to its recipient it not only misses the mark, it may have negative consequences. Our language of appreciation has roots that go way back in our personal histories. People who may not have experienced verbal recognition of a job well done very often in their life time may be extremely moved by a personal and specific articulation of their excellent execution of a task. People who have experienced a lot of “talk” but very little “action” may not be feel validated or buoyed by words alone but require “quality time” or “acts of service” to feel truly appreciated.

Along with insights into the various languages, concrete examples of what these languages look like and practical tips to implement the use of all of the languages, Chapman and White point out that those who are responsible for expressing appreciation have preferences as well. These preferences can create blind spots. These blind spots require conscious effort to overcome. The book contains some valuable strategies for managing this reality.

While the book is largely focused on employment settings the authors make two diversions into the realm of volunteers including Chapter 12: The Unique Characteristics of Volunteer Settings and How to Reward Volunteer, in the Notes section./513Difference between recognition and appreciation.