Volunteers Vs. Burnout – How To Win The Battle

24 10 2010

It is no secret that the lifeblood of any successful nonprofit organization is its core of volunteers. Because of the necessity of these volunteers, it’s important to avoid the dreaded “burnout” that so many experience.

What Is Volunteer Burnout?

The main difference between your full-time  job and your charitable responsibilities is the pay. Just as you become “burned out” from the 9-5 rate race, you can also suffer from volunteer burnout. This is a serious problem for both the volunteer and the organization and one not to be taken lightly.

Animal rescue nonprofits are no different than any other volunteer-based organization; there is always a core group of wonderful people who seem to do the lion’s share of the work. While this is great for the nonprofit, it’s not so great for the morale of the ones doing the work.

What defines volunteer burnout? The same thing that defines work burnout: volunteers become tired, disengaged, frustrated and at  wit’s end. They’ve lost enthusiasm for the cause, they don’t find the work  as fulfilling as it once was and will look for any excuse not to participate.

As the volunteer coordinator of your organization, it’s your job to identify this problem immediately and head it off at the pass. But how, you ask? There are several warning signs that your volunteers are becoming dissatisfied: constant crankiness, overreaction to the smallest issues, not completing assignments or just not showing up at all. Identifying the problem early and, more importantly, addressing it, can mean the difference between maintaining the productivity of your volunteers or losing them all together.

What Causes Volunteer Burnout and How Do I Prevent It?

As an organization that depends on volunteers, it’s important for you to understand what causes volunteer burnout before you can work to prevent it. Good volunteers are difficult to come by and you don’t want to lose those you have to something that could have been avoided in the first place. There are several reasons volunteers burnout:

  1. The organization’s goals are unclear and there seems to be no defined direction.
  2. There is too much work to be done and not enough to do it. People are afraid to say no out of fear that the work won’t otherwise get done.
  3. Few rewards or recognition for a job well-done. 
  4. All  work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Not enough downtime is a direct route to burnout.

Provide job descriptions with time committments for each of your volunteers. This will allow them to choose the jobs that will fit in with their other time committments.

Thank your volunteers regularly by pointing out their contributions. It’s also good practive to set up milestones and send out thank you cards, flowers or having a lunch for your volunteers who reach a certain number of hours served, for example.

Encourage your volunteers to take time off. It may mean taking on a bit more of the work load yourself for a little while, but it beats losing your volunteers permanently.

Be respectful of your volunteers’ commitments to their family, jobs and other priorities.

Have an open-door policy so that your volunteers feel comfortable in talking with you about concerns they have. Open and regular communication is key.

Volunteers are the key to your long-term success. Taking care of their needs and recognizing their contributions will keep them happy and more likely to stick around. Without them, the impact your organization COULD make will be much smaller.

For more information on volunteers and how they can contribute to your organization, please subscribe to our blog and visit the Volunteer Resources section on website.

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3 responses

24 10 2010
maps4pets

Will start mentioning these articles now on Twitter.

24 10 2010
animalrescuesuperhighway

Thank you so much! Would love to get some dialog going…

24 10 2010
maps4pets

Beefed up the title a bit, hope you don’t mind.

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