A Volunteer’s Guide to Avoid Burnout

“Secure your oxygen mask first” is advice we’ve all heard on a plane. This is the most important advice you’ll ever hear about self-care.

Burnout – the ongoing state of emotional and physical exhaustion, it is a constant phenomenon in the nonprofit world. Volunteer burnout comes in many forms and can be unusually high in the nonprofits we feel deeply connected to.

After volunteering in the trenches for many organizations with minimal resources and support, I experienced burnout and eventually lost my passion. After falling flat on my face, I exchanged my passion for helping others to help myself.

Had I prioritized myself and known how to identify the signs of burnout, I would have not only continued to fuel my passion, but I would have made a more significant impact.

Who are you to prioritize yourself when so many people depend on you? While your selfless efforts power the organizations that are meaningful to you, you must draw the line somewhere. Let’s face it, some leaders are skillful at guilting you into stepping up, but you must focus on whether you can commit to the work and remain passionate.

Because I wish someone warned me, here are a few ways you can avoid burnout or overcome it before it’s too late.

Reclaim Your Time

Being active has drained my energy in the past. It may sound selfish, but self-care is not selfish. You can immediately reclaim your time by saying no and limiting the amount of time you invest in the organization.

How does it work?

Be realistic about the amount of time you can dedicate to the organization and stick with it. For example, if you can only commit two hours of your time each week, then two hours it is. Nothing more, nothing less. Note, you owe no one an explanation!

Knowing how much you can do with what you have is the best way to focus your efforts. It’s always better to under promise and over deliver.

This goes for leaders as well. Focusing your efforts allows you to be a stronger contributor–remember quality over quantity.

Leverage Your Passion Within the Organization

What is something you love that the organization can benefit from? For me, it’s digital media. I get so engrossed in all forms of online media and try to figure out different ways to help mobilize the organizations I’m involved with. Whether you are a tech enthusiast, interested in finance, photography or event planning, lead with something you love and engage in it whenever you can through the organization.

Including your passion in volunteer work can take the pressure off. If you feel your love is turning into hard work, know when to leave. It’s that simple.

Give Yourself a Break  

No, this doesn’t mean a break in service. If you’re working yourself to the ground, you’ll lose your drive for the commendable work you’re doing. Give yourself time to recover between committees, programs, and events. Being a “good contributor” vs. a committee chair or executive board member keeps you productive. Taking a break is not only good for your physical health, but it gives you the mental clarity to tackle your next commitment and improves your overall quality of life.

Overall, don’t put yourself in a predicament where you are forced to trade in your passion. These best practices can be applied to anything that may cause or is causing you to burnout.

Leave a reply