With the new year just behind us … I don’t know about you guys, or how much you volunteer … but I was catching a huge wave of volunteer burnout right before Christmas. In my mind, the start of a volunteer new year feels is September. ( I know I said September … in the dead of Canadian white, but stick with me here 🙂 ) September: School is back in session and all the volunteering parents can do there. Church programs are back in full swing after a quiet summer asking people to participate in volunteer programs. Community Club’s are looking forward to the big AGM’s that winter year-end brings. seeking to bring people together.
So if September is the new start — then January is the restart.
What marks the restart of a volunteering season for you? I know for myself it feels like the end of the volunteering is in sight and the countdown to summer is already on. (I know, I know, call me crazy)
What I also love about this new year restart is the volunteering push that it gives me. What push? (you may ask) The push to finish well. The push to complete what I said I would. The push to be fully involved right till the end and skip the cruise control emotional no-put.
This is the time of year that I can look back and reflect on my volunteering work. I had a slow volunteering summer, and now that programs and school have started back up again, and we’ve ramped up the first term of the school year. It’s time to finish thinking, planning and writing my volunteering throughout my calendar. Taking a moment in the restart to look back at whats been done in order to dig for the push to finish well by making a plan, in which the plan to help avoid the volunteer “B” word … burnout.
Here are 3 tips for restarting your volunteering new year right.
Tip 1 | Have a start date and end date
Most volunteer positions do come with a time card. “Terms for 3 years” for example. When starting a volunteer position that is measured in years — it can seem like a long period of time. It really is not! Why?! because you are looking at it from the beginning.
That first year — you will be getting your feet under you and learning the ropes of the organization and developing a relationship with people that you are working with.
The middle years are the FUN years where the “moving and shaking” happens. You will be bursting with new ideas which you have the ability to make change within your position and the work that you can do for the organization.
Before long you’ll be wrapping up your final year. Finishing all the work you started and getting your position ready to hand off to someone else. While this is exciting to end your work and will give you the freedom to move onto something else this is also the year that the burnout can happen, feet can drag, and motivation is flagging.
So, before you restart your volunteering this season don’t let that deadline of “years” scare you, but embrace it knowing that you have a start, middle, and end to the position. (Genius I know! but when you’re in the middle of the muddle … it’s – eekkk!)
If you are in a volunteering position that has no timeline, consider setting one for yourself. For example (because I love examples): you could say/set “I will do __(secretary)___ position for ___(3 years)___ volunteering approximate ___ (2hrs)___ per week. Without a goal, there is nothing to shot at. Any attitude of “till whenever you don’t need me anymore” is asking for a terrible end to that volunteering story. Think about it — If you are not the right person for the job after 3 years, for example, how can the organization get rid of you? By hurting your feelings? By burning you? By sending you a letter in the mail? Vice Versa, if you are not happy with the direction the organization has taken — with that goal date in mind you have a graceful “out”. Keeping your reputation intact by finishing your term and moving on!
This is kinda true with anything we do though right?! Family dinners, going out, project working.We set goals, do our work, and also stop and reassess.
You may also like: Killing Myself Today By Worrying About Tomorrow | 4 tips to try
Tip 2 | Refresh yourself regularly
Not knowing and understanding or avoiding things that we don’t know can add to the stress of the volunteering job.
So refresh yourself! Not by taking your own word and what you think you know — but by learning from others that have gone before you with systems that are up to date and work. Don’t wait around for someone to give you a book or point you in the direction of a podcast… educate yourself on your terms, at your pace!
For example, if you’re a volunteer board member refresh yourself by reading a book like “The Imperfect Board Member” by Jim Brown. It will refresh your viewpoint, get you out of your own head and keep you motivated till the end of your term.
Tip 3 | Cut it loose.
Know when enough is enough. With start and end timelines in place, you will be able to finish your volunteer work and not feel like you are giving up on yourself and others.
Hold yourself to that commitment.
But if you are feeling like you are burning out before your commitment — stay on the job — but pull back where you can.
For example, if you are on the verge of burn out, (which looks like: put one more thing on my plate and I’ll a. scream b. cry or c.both — then you’re on the path to burnout.) you could budget out your time, and mental space to finish strong to the end of your time. You could delegate more and more responsibilities as you near the end of your time. If you say “There’s no one taking over my job or helping me.” Well, maybe it’s time to let go of that particular project and leave it lie. The world will not come crashing down if you do not lead the annual craft sale fundraiser. (for example) Just remember to communicate to the public that this will be “the last annual craft sale fundraiser that you are leading”. If someone else wants to step in and save the craft sale, awesome. If it finishes it’s last year with you … make it one heck of a craft sale!
If you can’t find someone to train and take on the fundraiser, then just shut it down. Yes! It will be hard, but if the organization you work for rose and fell just because of one person, it’s not an organization, but one woman show … which is NOT what you signed up for.
Budget your mental, emotional and physical space for volunteering. There is ALWAYS something else that you can volunteer for, and volunteering is GREAT. (I’m a lifer!) but what is even greater … having healthy volunteering boundaries …
You may also like: Letting Go of Perfect When Volunteering
It’s never too late to restart the season of volunteering outright. All you have to do is communicate what you need and perhaps where your boundaries are.
Have a start date and end date for your term of volunteering. Regularly refresh yourself by learning from those that have gone before. (there is so much great training out there! Don’t re-invent the wheel) and cut loose your inessentials. Budgeting your time, emotional, and mental space is not something anyone will criticize you for! ( if they do they should try volunteering, or maybe get a life! 🙂 ) You need to know your limit to avoid the line of burnout!
What do you do to avoid the black hole of volunteer burnout? Let me know in the comments below!
By: Sharon Schuler