How to Help Volunteers Keep the Initial Spark and Avoid Burnout

Remember that DIY project you saw and couldn’t wait to try yourself? It usually goes like this—you start out diving in full-steam ahead, and then before long your memory has completely transformed and you can’t seem to remember why you thought it was a good idea in the first place.

Pinterest, anyone? Yeah, I’m pretty familiar with the site Pinterest Fails. The same concept happens to volunteers. They come to your organization with passion and fire for what you’re trying to accomplish. But before you know it they can’t handle all of the responsibilities and ditch your organization for good. Let’s make sure they keep coming back to help.

Dial Back the Go-Getters

It’s incredibly difficult to say “no” to somebody when they want to take on a ton of projects right from the get-go. “Yes! Finally somebody with new energy. Let’s give them everything they ask to take on.”

Not so fast. If you’re not careful, that passion and fire for your organization could burn out quickly. It’s not because they changed their mind about your mission. It’s because they become too burnt out too quickly. The key is to ease the volunteer into the inner workings of your nonprofit.

I’m not saying to squash their aspirations. But to instead rein in the aspirations and help them achieve those goals. Which brings us to:

Help Them Set Goals from the Beginning

Slow and steady wins the race. And small, attainable steps help us reach bigger goals that we can work up to. If you have your volunteers map out goals from the beginning, it can help you rein in those big aspirations into smaller goals.

Find out what they’re hoping to achieve in the organization. Ask them about the skill sets they’d like to use or learn. When there’s groundwork laid out on the table, it’s easier to help your volunteers start small and work up to bigger things.

Develop a Check-In System

The root of many nonprofit problems comes back to communication issues. And volunteers burning out on their jobs is no exception. A simple, “How are you feeling in your role?” could have helped prevent the burnout before it started to escalate. And if you catch the burnout too late, they’re goners.

Give your volunteers enough time to acclimate. Too often people check back in right away before the volunteer has had enough time to dive in. Or, they let the volunteers get too far in and forget to check. Give it a few months and make a list so that you’re regularly checking back to prevent burnout.

We want to know—how has your organization worked to combat volunteer burnout?


Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

February 3, 2015

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