Volunteer burnout is a serious issue for many community organizations. When it happens volunteers may even reach the stage where they begin to despise the organization, not because they don't believe in what it is doing, but because of the impositions it is making on their time.
Don't let volunteering burn you out
To get to the root of volunteer burnout let's return to the world of sales, because that's essentially what fundraising is all about. There are three main reasons for burnout in the sales world:
The Reward Energy Dilemma. This is where the salesperson has no issues with the validity of the product but it doesn't excite them and hence each sale is really hard work (and draining). In some cases it doesn't excite them because they don't know all of its benefits and how it helps people and in other cases it just doesn't do it for them.
The Ethical Dilemma. This is where the salesperson is selling a product they don't believe in and their conscious is weighing on them because they are effectively lying to the customer.
Burnout Syndrome. In this case the salesperson loves the product they sell and gets a real kick out of it but they get to the stage where that's all they do. This causes cognitive dissonance where the brain says it needs some family or hobby time but the body is just working, eating and sleeping. Burnout ensues.
What can we as volunteers, learn from the world of sales?
Let's start by looking at the Rewards Energy dilemma. This is perhaps the most interesting of the three in relation to community organization volunteer burnout. Many community volunteers get started because of pressure from a friend or family member. Not a great way to start, you might say? However, the bottom line is that someone wouldn't volunteer if they didn't like the organization on some level, no matter how great the pressure. It's what happens next is where most community organizations fall down and allow volunteer burnout to occur.
In the sales world, the more the salesperson knows about the benefits of the product, the more effective they will be at selling it. If they believe in the product because they ca see how it helps people, they will be less prone to suffering burnout. Likewise it's hard to motivate volunteers unless they know the strengths of the community organization's product. What product is that you might ask? It's simply the benefits you offer to the local community! You'd be amazed at how many volunteers are out there struggling, simply because they don't know the full story of the benefits offered by their community organization. Once someone volunteers for your organization it's vitally important that you do all you can to help them understand how your organization benefits the local community (to prevent volunteer burnout).
The Ethical Dilemma is rarely a serious issue for community organizations since people rarely volunteer (even under pressure), if they don't believe in the organization at some level. If you are a volunteer and you don't think the organization offers good benefits to the members of the local community, then you have probably already experienced burnout and the only solution is to quit. Before you make that decision though, make sure that you are fully aware of all of the benefits. It may be that you just haven't been shown some of the things that the organization does. Remember, most established community organizations do offer significant benefits, otherwise they simply wouldn't survive.
Burnout Syndrome is at the opposite end of the scale. The volunteer believes so passionately in the organization that they spend nearly all of their free time doing volunteer work. They eventually experience burnout and are often confused as to why! They know they love the organization and love working for it so why are those feelings of resentment starting to surface? It's a subconscious thing. The brain needs other stimulation, such as family time and time with friends. Don't be tempted to let you most dedicated volunteers overwork themselves. Encourage them to take some time to themselves, and that way they'll be with you for life and be you greatest advertising tool into the bargain.
Return from Volunteer Burnout to Community Organization Fundraising