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.

I’ve Got Volunteers – Great! Now What?

1 10 2010

You’ve done your homework. You’ve got your plan in order, you know what direction you want your non profit to move in. You’ve got your volunteers line up. That’s great! Now what are you going to do with them?

It is very likely that the group of volunteers that have agreed to work in your nonprofit don’t come as “plug and play.” They are likely a great group of people whose hearts are in the right place, but they aren’t sure what you expect of them. Enthusiasm is a wonderful attribute but only part of what you need. You need your volunteers to have certain skills. This is completely normal and very easy to fix. But just like it took work to gather the right type of volunteer, it’s going to take some work to train them, too.

Some nonprofit organizations don’t necessarily need an organized volunteer training program. An Animal Rescue group is not one of them. It takes a special person to volunteer in the animal community. It takes compassion and patience but you also have to know what to expect when dealing with different animals and their backgrounds. Take a look at your mission statement and what you have brought your volunteers in to do and consider the following before implementing a training program:

  • Training helps new volunteers get to know the people, the program, and the job quickly and efficiently.
  • Training your volunteers establishes that there is a minimum competency that all volunteers are expected to obtain.
  • Many volunteers see training as a benefit of being part of an organization. Training teaches them skills that may be helpful to them elsewhere, and may even help them get a paying job.
  • Training publicly acknowledges a necessary level of proficiency. By training your volunteers, you are making the statement that the organization is professional and capable of doing important work and doing it well.
  • Some organizations use training as a “weeding out” technique, making sure that volunteers who have signed up will be likely to live up to their commitments.
  • You’ve Decided You Need a Training Program – But Who’s Going To Do The Training?

    If you are the Executive Director, it’s likely that you know your organization better than anyone and it makes sense that you should do the training. However, is it logical? Would taking on volunteer training taking you away from your other duties? Obviously, if you are the chief cook and bottle washer, the training will fall into your lap. But if you are fortunate enough to have someone who has worked with volunteers in the past, who can act as a designated volunteer trainer, it may be better to go that route; particularly if you either have or plan to have large groups of volunteers and will offer several training sessions each year.

    Deciding The Particulars

    Ok – you’ve got your volunteers. You’ve got your volunteer trainer. Now what?

    There are a few steps you will need to follow in order to develop your volunteer training program:

    1. Decide what to teach. Why are you training your volunteers? What should they know or be able to accomplish upon completion of the training?  Set measurable goals that both the volunteers and the trainers can use and build your training program around these goals. Food for thought: if the trainer doesn’t know what he/she wants the volunteers to know, the volunteers aren’t going to know what they were supposed to have learned. Confusing right?
    2. How are you going to teach? This is a two-fold question. First thing to consider is everyone has different thought patterns, and as such, will have different learning patterns. Your training program and your volunteer trainer need to reflect these differences. Secondly, if your organization is small, you may be able to get by with a “buddy system” type training rather than a full training program.  In the “buddy system,” the new volunteer works with an experienced volunteer through day-to-day tasks until the new volunteer is comfortable in taking over.
    3. Do you have a training budget? Training can be done fairly inexpensively, particularly if you are doing the training yourself, but even then you will still incur some expense. If you don’t have your own facility to hold the training in or your own equipment (audio/visual, computer, etc.) you will need to rent room space and or the necessary equipment. Are you planning an all-day training session? If so, you’ll need to provide food and drink for the attendees. What about handouts? The costs to print these should be considered as well. Use materials that will fit into your budget: flyers, brochures and web pages are inexpensive, but if you plan to use videos and workbooks, plan to spend a little more.
    4. Use lesson plans. Lesson plans are an important part of any training program. They help to keep you in a designated time frame while making sure you cover all of the important and necesssary information. Your lesson plans should carefully outline the learning objectives, how much time each lesson should take and a detailed explanation of the activity.
    5. Evaluate your students. Evaluation is an extremely important part of training – both for the volunteer and the volunteer training. For the trainer, evaluation of the student shows what was learned and understood in your class. For the volunteer, it is a way to rate the trainer and show ways to improve the program.

    Training volunteers may seem like a long and tedious task. You’re right, it is. But in the end, when you have a solid, core group of volunteers who know the ins and outs of your organization and are willing to reach the goals and dreams you’ve set forth for the organization, isn’t it time well spent?

    So You’re Looking For A Volunteer?

    27 09 2010

    Every nonprofit organization needs a good core group of volunteers to succeed and animal rescue organizations are no different. If you are reading this, chances are you are one of the thousands of employees or directors of animal rescue groups around the country who are struggling to make ends meet and operating as a “one man/woman band.”  This may work for awhile, but eventually you’re going to burn out and this can only lead to epic failure.

    People like to give back and get involved. What better way than with YOUR organization? Before you set out to find the volunteers who will best suit your needs you need to first decide what your needs are. Are you having a fundraising event? Do you need someone to help at the shelter? Or are you looking for someone to handle some of the administrative tasks like phone calls, mailing and such?

    Now that you have your goals outlined, the volunteers are going to come running right? Wrong! You have to encourage them to come your way. Let’s face it, while it’s true that people do love to get involved, in this day and age it’s just not that simple. With the economy still in a slump and families relying on two incomes, it’s difficult for people to volunteer as much as they would like. Add that to busy family schedules and your piece of the pie just got that much smaller.

    But never fear – hope is not lost! We have some tips to help you pull in the volunteers – even if it’s only for a few hours a week. Every little bit helps, right?

    Tips For Finding Good Volunteers:

    “Help Wanted” – This may seem silly but writing a “help wanted” ad can actually help find a good match for your organization. This will allow you to be specific about job descriptions and duties and time committment.

    “Lots of Opportunity to Help” – It’s easy to get caught up in everything that needs to be done, so much so that you may tend to lean on your volunteers and expect that they will be there everytime you call. With some this may be the case, however, you want to be as specific as possible about the estimated time committment needed from your volunteers. One of the main reasons volunteers are lost is because they are brought in with the intention of helping out for one event or for a day or two a week, but get pulled in and end up being there indefinitely.

    “Can You Help Us?” – Volunteers like to be approached about helping out. Yes, help wanted ads do the job, but don’t rely on just that approach. If you know someone who can do a specific job or task – don’t be afraid to come right out and ask.

    “The More, The Merrier” – People will be more likely to help out if they can bring a friend or two, particularly if this is the first time they’ve volunteered for your organization. They may not know anyone else and would feel much more comfortable with a familiar face close by. Besides, you wouldn’t turn away an extra pair of hands would you?

    Following just these few simple steps can help get you on the path to building a good, reliable core of volunteers.

    ~~~For more information on obtaining, training and maintaining volunteers, please subscribe to our blog or visit our website,