4 Keys to Avoiding Volunteer Burnout

January 15, 2010 at 4:40 am 8 comments

I was very honored that Mandi at Organizing Your Way asked me write a post in her series this month “More Than Resolutions.”

31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010: Volunteer More

And then I read the topic that she wanted me to post on—“Volunteer More”—and I almost laughed out loud. I probably guffawed. Because I don’t think of myself as a big volunteer. And that’s because I’m not. But I accepted anyway. “Why?” you’re probably wondering.

I suppose if you count how much I volunteered in 2008, and compare that to 2009, then my volunteering efforts increased dramatically—they went from zero to one!

See, I totally dropped off the map from 2007-2009, after the stillbirth of our daughter at 39 weeks gestation. All organized volunteering was completely off the table. We spent the entirety of 2007 & 2008 surviving (and having another baby—a son—born 11 months to the day after his sister).

I spent 2007 and 2008 being the recipient of peoples’ volunteering: meals, cleaning my house, babysitting my kids. I can’t even begin to communicate how thankful I was and am for people volunteering for me. It’s humbling.

In 2009, however, I was given the opportunity to serve and volunteer. Because of my blogging, I was asked to participate in one of Compassion International’s blogger trips to see their work and write about it. So I guess that leads me to my first point about volunteering:

1. Do Something That Interests You

I love kids. I love working with kids (I’m a pediatric speech language pathologist). I love blogging. I love travel. I love the thought of children being released from the grip of poverty. So many of my interests and passions came together on this trip!

If you get asked to volunteer in the kitchen at your kids’ school and you HATE being in the kitchen, maybe you should ask for a different opportunity. Chances are there are other things to do. (There’s always work for a willing volunteer.) If you make your interests known, you’ll probably end up doing something you actually like and will therefore thrive in, instead of dreading.

Of course there are times when you kinda have to die to yourself and just do the thing that needs to be done. I’m not saying we should turn our noses up at things we don’t like or things that aren’t glamorous. There’s always going to be jobs that no one wants to do, and sometimes we should accept those. Sometimes there will even be joy in doing the things we didn’t think we liked doing.

But for any ongoing, long-term volunteer work that you’d be expected to care about…probably something that interests you would be best.

2. Do Something Possible

All of us have to figure out what works for us and our families. The Compassion trip I took was only 5 days long. It fit nicely into our family schedule without disrupting too much. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gone if it had been a longer trip; it just meant that fewer things had to be juggled around, and that made the trip feel more possible for me and my family.

Also, I already had a blog. And I was pretty sure I could write a decent post for what they were doing. It would’ve been silly of me to accept an offer to do something outside of my skill set, like be the tech support for the trip. That, my friends, would’ve been a disaster, an epic FAIL.

If you’re horrible with numbers, don’t volunteer for an accounting opportunity. That would be really silly, right? But that’s often how we respond when we hear about those gaping volunteer opportunities. We talk ourselves (or let others talk us) into jobs that don’t match up with what we can actually do, just because the need exists.

3. Pace Yourself

If you’re already an exhausted, overwhelmed mother of young children, you probably feel like you have very little margin in your life to be giving much more (because you’re giving all day long). Maybe you only have one hour once a month—that’s honestly what’s possible for you. Be okay with that. Be willing to give more when you’re in a season for giving more.

Perhaps for some of you, this is the year of more time, more margin, more availability. Be on the lookout for what you can do with that time!

If we try to do the impossible in volunteering and overextend ourselves, not only will we overwhelmed and rue the day we ever thought that volunteering was a good idea, but we’ll burn out and be of no use for an even longer period of time. (Because you’ll probably swear off of volunteering all together!)

For me, at the end of 2009, I was finally willing and able to step into a volunteer role again. I wanted to be there. I felt ready to be there. And I did one thing in 2009. And it was an awesome, life-changing one thing.

4. Volunteer Under the Radar

You can give of yourself in a million ways every day. Just because you’re not signing up for a regular slot on a schedule with a specific company or organization, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

Be your own organization!

  • If you love making meals for new moms, be that person that shows up six weeks after all the other organized meals have stopped coming and bless someone’s socks off!
  • Be the person who secretly drops off flowers for someone who just lost a loved one.
  • Show up randomly for the graveyard shift in the hospital room, giving the parents of a sick child a chance to go shower and sleep in their own home.

When I was in my darkest hours of need, this type of kindness was exactly the kind of volunteering that saved my life.

I think it’s right and good for all of us to have volunteering in our minds at the beginning of 2010. Who knows what that will look like come February or May or September? For some, you will have jumped in with both feet and be volunteering to your heart’s content. For some, you’ll still be looking for just the right thing. To be honest, I don’t have a plan for how I’ll volunteer in 2010. I just know I want to be open and available when opportunities come my way. I’ll say no to some and yes to others.

But I do know that I’m more likely to accept an opportunity if I get a chance to use my interests in a way that feels possible, and at a pace I can handle.

*               *               *

I’d love it if you read about my trip to El Salvador with Compassion. And, more importantly, I’d love it if you sponsored a child. 2010 is your year!

Entry filed under: Spoutings.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • […] your resolution in 2010 is to volunteer more, Molly is sharing 4 tips for avoiding volunteer burnout at The Pipers, and you can also read about the cause that she’s passionate […]

  • 2. rhonda  |  January 15, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Great advice. Sometimes we tend to get caught in the “doing” and neglect the why and the who. Thanks for good pointers.

  • 3. Rebekah  |  January 15, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    We were on the recipient end when our son was stillborn and you’re right- it is humbling but just the kindness we needed. Love put into action! It’s opened my eyes to the needs of others that before I’d never thought about.

  • 4. Paula @ Motherhood Outloud  |  January 15, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Great thoughts! I know that for now, as a mom of 2 preschoolers, I look for opportunities that can involve our whole family. Fortunately, we have those through the non profit org my husband directs locally.

    I’ve also found that part of my role is to hold down the fort so my husband can do a lot of volunteering in this season of our lives. That was hard for me at first, but that is the season we are in and it is a privilege to be able to joyfully encourage him to respond when there is a need!

  • 5. Kelly @ Love Well  |  January 15, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Great tips, especially those of us with young children.

    I’ve found, for me, the key is maximizing the little time and energy I have. In the past, I would say yes to every cause and opportunity that seemed pressing. But that didn’t make my family a priority.

    It’s a hard balancing act.

  • 6. nmwally  |  January 16, 2010 at 12:06 am

    Great thoughts. I love the concept of “being your own organization”. Right now at this season in my life I’m only volunteering for one thing at church (music/worship ministry) — I love having more time not only to serve my family, but time that I can use freely to meet other needs of friends/family. A far cry from the days when I used to volunteer for every single thing that came up, even if it wasn’t in my “skill set”.

    On a side note, thanks for the link to “Organizing Your Way”. I’ve been trying to figure out better ways to be more intentional and purposeful in my mothering/house stuff and at a glance it looks like a really helpful site. What have your thoughts been on it? I also clicked the link from there to the “Steady Mom” site and that looks neat, too.

  • 7. Maybe You Should | AXI  |  January 16, 2010 at 4:33 am

    […] 4 Keys To Avoiding Volunteer Burnout « The PipersIf you get asked to volunteer in the kitchen at your kids’ school and you HATE being in th… […]

  • 8. Katie S.  |  January 18, 2010 at 6:51 am

    So timely. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this…I’m trying to find that delicate balance. It was helpful to read these words. Blessings to you.


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