Many of you who work with non profits at some point you were involved as a volunteer. Perhaps you had a wonderful experience. Perhaps you were left dissastified. Perhaps you felt like it was time to move on or life was changing directions. What ever the reason that lead to a change in what you did as a volunteer, the worse is to have burn out. Just as you might have experienced burn-out, we want to help you so that you can avoid it with your volunteers.
You may recognise this feeling in yourself and/or those who you work with. Starting to dread the commitment you made to attend a function or stuff envelopes. Maybe you have an excuse already in mind when the ask comes if you could help with…(fill in the blank). Whatever the reasoning that is given, in this sector volunteers are your life line. Without volunteers to support the cause; it costs more money in staff and it is not like money grows in trees for charities.
Recognize and acknowledge the Volunteer or staff.
Sounds simple enough, but too often volunteers are seen as someone to complete a task. These are people who are giving up their resources in skills, time and probably money. Make sure that the thank you is genuine and sincere. If it is just a smile saying Thank You, a card, or hey bring them some coffee every once in a while when you make your coffee run. The volunteer will value that you noticed them and this could motivate them to continue to support your cause.
Meet their Needs.
Say you have 5 people who have agreed to volunteer. You just completed an intake and now you assign them to areas A, B and C. Great, you get them started. Question for you, during the intake did you find out what they are interested in? I am not saying what their CV or resume said, but what did they say they are interested in? I share this because this has happened to me many many times. Most of the time there was no intake process and my submission to wanting to volunteer resulted in stuffing envelopes. After a period of time the volunteer who completes the task they have been assigned will experience burn-out simply from lack of using their skills and boredom. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the simplicity of stuffing envelopes, but I, like other volunteers enjoy challenges. One organisation took the time to ask what do I want out of volunteering and I will share it was the most fulfilling and enjoyable years of my life as a volunteer. So before you even start the path of burn-out, ask the volunteer what do they want and help them meet their needs and desires.
Develop and Transition.
Burn-out often comes as a result of lack of growth and/or overuse. If you have a volunteer that you see potential in and who is committed to the success of your organisation, take the time to create a development plan for them. This helps the volunteer know that you want to keep them around and invest in them as they are investing in the charity. This should be something that offers them growth as well as give them a time frame for how long they will be working in this capactity and role. Transition is crucial and I recommend that each area should have a volunteer no more than 2 years. (3 years for Board Members, but majority of volunteers, no more than 2). The volunteer can stay involved, but if you have someone stay in the same role, it limits other volunteers who may want to step up. It also will decrease the burn out from the volunteers while spreading the wisdom and commitment to those involved.
Please share your comments about solutions and experiences with volunteer burn-out. Feel free to pass this along to others who may be interested.
So take care of those Volunteers, so Volunteer Burnout does not strike your organization!