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Association Management

How to Recognize Volunteer Burnout (And What to Do Next)

MemberClicks Avatar MemberClicks April 29, 2019
Table of Contents
3 min read

Volunteer Burnout

For most organizations, finding volunteers – time and time again – can be tough. And for that reason, many associations and chambers find themselves asking the same people (people who’ve volunteered before) to volunteer again. They’re engaged. They’re committed. They’re willing. No harm in asking, right?

Certainly not! It’s natural to resort to your most engaged members. But over time, those members may get burned out. Serving on back-to-back-to-back committees may have drained them, and as a result, they may not be enjoying their membership within your organization quite as much.

Not. Good.

That’s why today, we’re talking all about volunteer burnout. What are the signs that your volunteers are reaching that point? And when you recognize those signs, what should you do next? Here are a few tips:

Signs of volunteer burnout

1. They’re less enthusiastic about goals, projects, and tasks

Volunteers are typically excited about the work in front of them. They’re excited about making a difference, particularly in regards to something they feel passionate about. And not only that, but they’re excited to give back to an organization that’s given so much to them.

When you start to see that excitement fade – they’re less enthusiastic about what’s down the road – that’s a good sign they’re starting to feel burned out. Take notice.

2. They’re slacking a tad (or a bit) in terms of performance and work ethic

Let’s say a former A++ volunteer starts showing up to meetings late, missing meetings, doing the bare minimum (rather than going above and beyond like they used to), and committing careless mistakes (typos in important documents, for example). Does that mean they’re just not a good worker, and by extension, volunteer? No! Past performance shows they are. This behavior points to burnout, and that should be approached with compassion and a plan, which we’ll get to next.

3. They’re increasingly critical and cynical 

People volunteer because they want to give back and they want to make a difference. So when you start hearing a volunteer consistently shoot down ideas or point out the negative in everything, that’s a good sign they’re feeling discouraged, and in that same vein, burned out.

So what’s an association or chamber professional to do? Do you let that behavior go and hope those emotions will just pass? Do you wait for the volunteer to approach you? You could, but those may not yield the results you want. Rather, we recommend doing one (or several) of the following:

  • Try to take some work off of that volunteer’s plate. If it’s a committee we’re talking about, try divvying up a bulk of the work among your other committee members, giving that burned-out volunteer a little time to breathe.
  • Take some time to recognize and thank them. Often, it can be hard to keep pushing yourself when you don’t feel valued. That said, let them know how much you appreciate them and their involvement. Write them a card or present them with an award at your annual meeting or upcoming luncheon. Even a $10 Starbucks gift card with a nice little handwritten note could bring a smile to their face.
  • When possible, try to eliminate any added stressors. You may not be able to lighten the workload for your volunteer. Maybe it’s crunch time, and things just HAVE to get done. That happens. But are there any other stressors you can take away? For example, their commute. Rather than having them drive 30+ minutes for an in-person meeting, can they just call in (or video chat, even) from their home? The more relief you can provide your burned-out volunteer, the less drained they’ll hopefully start to feel.

From recruitment to retention, volunteer management is TOUGH. For more tips and best practices, check out our Ultimate Guide to Volunteer Management below!

Free Member Retention Guide

Ready to retain members and keep them coming back forever and ever? This guide will teach you everything you need to know about member retention. We cover all the basics, like the first steps to member retention and how to map out your member journey. From there, we dive a bit deeper into retention tips.