How to Spot Volunteer Burnout and What You can Do to Help

volunteer burnout
Volunteers can be essential to the delivery of your programs and services and as a result, can also be a reflection of your organization. As leaders and volunteer coordinators it’s important to ensure that volunteers aren’t experiencing burnout. 

It’s not just about retaining volunteer numbers; just like a paid job people work best when they feel energized and appreciated. The most common cause of volunteer burnout is usually linked to how staff manages their volunteers in how they are treated, scheduled and given direction on the job.   

Providing a good experience is so important, especially during Covid. There are currently a lot of people motivated to give their time to help the community, so it’s vital that they feel safe and valued. Communicating with your volunteers and  knowing how to spot and prevent volunteer burnout is vital.

How to Spot Burnout 

Burnout can look different for each person but here are some general signs to look out for:


Lost Enthusiasm Around Work 

Volunteers are typically excited about the work they do, offering your time to support a cause you believe in means a lot to a person. Take notice when you see volunteers who seem upset or tired on the job. Ask them how they are doing and let them know you are here for them as well. 

They Don’t Seem Like Themselves

If you notice one of your top volunteers begins showing up late to meetings, missing events or doing less than they normally do it may be because of burnout. Burnout can be a result of either their job or personal situations so don’t take their performance personally. 
This doesn’t make them a bad volunteer, they are just burnt out and need some support. Approach them with compassion and try to work out a plan that will help them feel more at ease. 

They Seem Aggravated or Tense

People volunteer because they are excited about the opportunity to help out an organization or cause, so if they are constantly shooting done ideas or feel negatively towards their work it may be because they are discouraged. 

So what do you do when you’re experiencing volunteer burnout and how can you prevent it in the future? 

Set Volunteers Up for Success with a Solid Recruitment Plan

Your volunteers may be feeling that they aren’t in a position that suits them and because of the poor match feel discouraged when doing their job. The best way to prevent this from happening is to have a strong recruitment and onboarding plan in place. 

Volunteer’s skills and interests should be taken into consideration where possible. There also should be some form of training, orientation or explanation on how and why their position is important to the nonprofit. Start by looking at your recruitment message and how it relates to your organization as a whole. 

When looking for volunteers, think beyond someone who shares your mission and values. Is there a specific personality you’re looking for? Do they need any experience or specific skills to be considered for a certain role? Talk to your potential volunteers in the onboarding process to find out their goals to better suit them to a position they can flourish in. 

Lastly, be upfront about the position so expectations are clear from the start. There is nothing more frustrating than starting a position and being hit with the dreaded "oh by the way…” after the fact. Let them know the whole story at the beginning which will save you a ton of time in the long run. 

Volunteers are People Too

People are capable of amazing things, however everyone has their limits. Everyone's commitment and passion levels will vary along with their availability. Your volunteers won't be available for every event and may need to cancel from time to time, the key here is to never make them feel guilty for doing so. 

Expecting your volunteers to deliver the same enthusiasm and commitment as a staff member would is unrealistic. They are donating their time and efforts to help you so having flexibility within your opportunities is greatly appreciated.

Using a volunteer management software is a great way to not only communicate with volunteers. But ensure they are being booked in time that works for them. It can be downloaded as an app so volunteers can easily update their schedule for you to view. You can also see who’s available to work digitally using the scheduler which is great is you have remote volunteers at the moment. 

Communicate Clearly With Your Team 

We all know how important communication is in any relationship, so make sure either you or any relevant staff are accessible to your volunteers. If they have any questions or concerns on the job they should be able to get a hold of an organization member for an answer. This also means providing them with any necessary information up front. 

One of my favourite volunteer experiences was with a community news station because they were so great at communicating and thanking their volunteers. We had an orientation where they clearly outlined what we’d be doing on the job, asked me what my interests were and matched me to a position that suited my skills and experience. There was always someone available at events to talk with if we had any questions or concerns. Let your volunteers know that they are valued members of the team and can always reach out if they are experiencing any issues. 

You can help make communication go smoothly by dividing your volunteers based on their role, for example, marketing, media, fundraising or events and have a specific person of contact for each section. Frequently communicate with your volunteers whether it be through messaging in an app like volunteer engine or through email. 

Lastly, Say Thank You!

Everyone likes to feel appreciated and by showing your appreciation volunteers are going to feel motivated to continue with your organization. You can do this in a few ways: 
  • An annual volunteer event celebrating the work that your volunteers do 
  • A monthly newsletter highlighting the work and successes of the previous month
  • Emails thanking them after a big event
  • Letting them know on the job that you appreciate their effort 
  • Call outs on social media
For more information and tips on managing your nonprofit follow us on Linkedin and Facebook. If you’re interested in learning more about the power of Volunteer Engine and how you can use it to transform your volunteer management, making it easier and more efficient feel free to contact us with any questions!

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Volunteers Jun 24, 2020, 12:00 AM

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