How to Prevent Volunteer Burnout: 6 Helpful Strategies

Volunteers are critical to nonprofits—in many cases, the good work wouldn’t get done without them! So, what do you do when your helpers lose interest and disengage?
Not unlike donor fatigue, volunteer burnout has a lot to do with how your organization interacts and connects with those so essential to its mission. You may be thinking, “Well, certainly, if a volunteer has lost their enthusiasm or their schedule has changed, they should take a break. We’ll work on recruiting new helpers.”
You’re right in that sometimes people’s ability to help evolves and the time commitment becomes difficult, and actively seeking new volunteers is always a good idea. However, when there are signs of existing volunteers losing interest, it’s worth addressing. Says Kayla Matthews in her piece on Volunteer Match:
“If burned-out volunteers continue to show up for their shifts, their overall productivity will likely decrease. And their burnout will only get worse.

Volunteers are also representatives of the organizations they serve, especially if they’re in public-facing positions like those associated with fundraising or direct client services. If volunteers are worn-out or unenthused about the work they’re doing, the individuals they’re working with might have second thoughts about supporting your organization.

Plus, as advocates for your organization, the information they share in their social circles will travel. Volunteers suffering from burnout may critique your organization or speak negatively about the work you do, ultimately discouraging their friends from getting involved.”

None of the above is conducive to any nonprofit’s goals. Remember that volunteering is a symbiotic relationship—your organization gets the all-important helping hands it needs, and the people giving their time get what they need, too. The Canadian Knowledge Hub for Giving and Volunteering found that “Nationally, about half of volunteers become involved because they want to improve their own health or sense of well-being.”
In this third blog post of our donor engagement series, we’ll share six different ways to address volunteer burnout and even attract new helpers in the process.

6 Ways to Re-Engage Your Nonprofit’s Volunteer Team

Number 1

Develop growth in volunteer roles 

Personal development and learning something new make everyone feel their time is well-spent. One way to do this is through e-learning. Instead of showing up to volunteer and performing the same tasks, a person can learn new skills that they’d need to assist in other roles within your organization. For example, you could provide a course on social media management or how to use Canva to create graphics. Then, once a person has completed it, they can take a portion of that work on for your organization. Plus, they could add a new skill to their resume!

You can also offer workshops, webinars, or online courses on topics related to your mission. Doing so will not only help volunteers improve their skills but also give them a better understanding of your organization’s work.

Nonprofitready.org lists hundreds of (free!) nonprofit-specific courses. Additionally, Nonprofit Tech for Good regularly hosts webinars on topics very relevant to nonprofit work and offers training programs on things such as Social Media Marketing & Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits.

Number 2

Offer leadership opportunities.

Giving volunteers leadership roles within your organization can help them feel more invested in their work, thus promoting a positive volunteering experience. Ask them to help plan events, lead projects, or serve on committees. This will not only give them a sense of ownership and responsibility but also help develop their leadership skills. Additionally, make an effort to leverage their existing skill set—doing so improves their sense of value and often leads to the improvement of your nonprofit.

Another idea is to invite volunteers to manage projects your organization needs to take on but doesn’t have the capacity to initiate. For example, building your social media presence, creating content, or holding a community event to inform, educate, and potentially help with volunteer recruitment.

This United Way e-book lays out a comprehensive process of developing a volunteer leadership program.

Number 3

Regularly recognize their efforts.

Express gratitude on a regular basis for your volunteer team’s hard work. There are many ways to do this, such as rewarding the volunteer of the month or giving them props on social media. These small gestures go a long way in making volunteers feel appreciated and will help keep them coming back. In addition, if you want to attract new supporters, remember that word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools available—happy volunteers are more likely to tell others about their positive experiences. Review this article by Aspire Research Group for detailed volunteer appreciation ideas. 
Number 4

Engage technology.

Technology can significantly assist in managing and engaging volunteers while reducing their (and your) workload. An event and fundraiser management platform decreases the volunteer hours needed to put on events and fundraisers by streamlining processes such as guest check-in. Additionally, using an event platform, you can create multiple levels of access to authorize helpers to take on virtual tasks related to fundraising events. These platforms make it easy for potential volunteers to see what opportunities are available, which can help attract new supporters to your organization.

Volunteer management platforms are another beneficial tool for small and large nonprofits. Using one, you can organize shifts, promote volunteer opportunities, track hours served, and more. Nonprofit Growth’s roundup of volunteer management software options (some are free!) is a great resource to get started.

Number 5

Connect with your volunteers.

This one is simple, but it’s true! Connecting with volunteers can be done in several ways, including:

  • Keeping them updated on what’s going on within the organization. Being in the loop or, if you’re feeling particularly alliterative, tree of trust makes just about anyone feel they matter.
  • Regularly asking for feedback and implementing helpful ideas to improve organizational processes. By asking for thoughts and then taking action, you’re demonstrating to volunteers that their opinions matter and that you’re always working to improve their experience.
  • Taking a moment to get to know them on a personal level.
Number 5

Create a volunteer management program

The Corporate Finance Institute defines volunteer management as “The process of creating systems for recruitment, training, engagement, and coordination of volunteers.” In essence, a volunteer management strategy aids in keeping helpers engaged and organized, ultimately assisting in deterring burnout. Take a moment to read this account of a volunteer experience by nonprofit consultant Jayne Cravens. It puts you in the shoes of a volunteer and illustrates precisely why a solid volunteer management program is so essential.

If your volunteer management process is slightly more organized than a room full of cats, that’s ok! Using Volunteer Hub’s article Volunteer Management Process: 4 Effective Strategie, you can make headway starting now. It lays out four steps your organization can take immediately to implement a process.

Engaging Volunteers Is at The Heart of Nonprofit Work
This discussion of helping and volunteerism calls to mind Mr. Rogers’ poignant and reassuring advice for kids, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

For adults, his counsel evolves into BE a helper. Without people volunteering their time and energy, the good would not get done, whether that’s the people checking in participants at a local run for a cause or a large-scale response in a crisis event. And we can all agree that the world definitely needs more helpers. Inspiring more of that energy in service of the greater good is possibly the most important thing we can do.

P.S. If you’re having a problem recruiting volunteers, this article by Jayne Cravens offers excellent, actionable information.

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