Prevent Volunteer Burnout at Nonprofits and Charities

Burnout. It’s not just for people working a job that demands more mental energy than they can provide – it also happens to volunteers. Unfortunately, the signs of burnout for a volunteer aren’t discovered until it’s too late: they withdraw from the nonprofit or charity they have been volunteering with and not only do they stop volunteering there, it can often spell the end of their volunteerism for good.

It’s not a great situation. Because nonprofits and charities are always trying to create a sum that is greater than the parts, a main motivating factor for many people involved in the operations is altruistic. In fact, according to a 2017 study by Community Life, 80% of volunteers say they engaged with the charity because they wanted to help others and the cause was important to them.

However, the tank that fuels volunteer’s ability to serve is not bottomless and we need to be sure we don’t abuse or take for granted their willingness to help. This is not to suggest that some volunteers show up regularly for years and contribute a great deal without ever showing even a hint of burnout. However, often those volunteers have figured out a way to manage their ability to give their time without overdrawing their mental health bank account.

Here are a few quick tips for managing burnout for volunteers:

  1. Approach the volunteer opportunity like a professional athlete sometimes approaches a contract. Sometimes the athlete has a player option, meaning the athlete plays for a set amount of years for the team, but the final year(s) are the player’s choice. They can renew their contract for a set amount of time and money or they can opt-out and retire or go elsewhere. It’s understood at the start of the contract the player may leave but they also might stay.
  2. As the nonprofit or charity, be intentional about cross-training your volunteers and have a set schedule for rotating them through different jobs. Yes, this means more logistical work. However, many volunteers engage because they are trying to make new friends, learn new skills or network. For this group, having the opportunity to meet new people and learn new skills is key to keeping them at the nonprofit.
  3. Take a holiday/give volunteers time off. Are you worried they won’t come back? Some might, but many will. It’s also possible those volunteers who haven’t taken a break are not operating at their full capacity. The same way you need a vacation from your job, you need a vacation from volunteering as well. insist your volunteers take time off from their volunteer role.
  4. The main reason volunteers quit is because they feel they have no say in the impact they’re making. Volunteers want to give not just of their time and talent, but also of their opinion and mind. Engage them in conversation, listen to their advice and find ways to act on it.

Nonprofits and charities are honour bound not to burnout their volunteers. Their ethos is shrouded in helping others so it’s entirely inappropriate to ignore being kind to your volunteers which includes helping manage their efforts in order to avoid burnout.

Leading With Nice exists to help you inspire others, build loyalty and get results. Is your volunteer team or staff functioning at their best? Contact us and learn how your teams can reach their full potential.