Volunteer Fatigue & The Holidays

Feeling sad, tired or stressed out? Overwhelmed? You could be be showing signs of volunteer fatigue. There is no end to the ways you can over-commit, especially during the holidays, and you’re not alone. Many adults, and kids, who volunteer have trouble saying “no.” But as in many things, moderation is key.

Saying no is hard, especially if you think your answer is going to disappoint. But spreading yourself too thin can be a bad thing for you and the recipient/s of your volunteer efforts. Being sensible about your time let’s you maintain the energy and desire to honor your commitments.

There are ways to maintain balance – ask yourself how much you can take on, or whether it’s something that can be delegated. This is key to avoiding volunteer fatigue.

For volunteers, signs of fatigue include losing enthusiasm for the mission of the organization and your activities, worrying when you’re not there, and feeling uninspired when you are. You may also notice yourself becoming cranky with others because of your fatigue and resentment. Bottom line: You doubt you’re making a difference. You’ve lost the sense of satisfaction you used to have. Where’s the fun?

Sadly, the best volunteers are usually most prone to fatigue. Because they’re so dedicated, they often fail to take breaks or ask for help. And because they’re so dedicated, organizations often pile responsibility on them.

Organizations that depend on volunteers have an inherent interest in making sure this doesn’t happen. Good volunteers are hard to come by so it’s important to make sure they take care of themselves — even when they say they don’t need to.

The first step in preventing fatigue? THANK volunteers regularly for their involvement and point out their contributions privately or publicly, or both, depending on your organizational set up. Celebrate accomplishments.

Secondly, it’s important to encourage volunteers to take TIME OFF. Just like regular paid employees, everybody needs a break and no one should feel guilty about rotating on or off of committee assignments, or sharing larger responsibilities.

Other things you can do include providing job descriptions with an estimated time commitment so volunteers know what they’re getting into, delegating tasks so no one’s plate gets too full and having back-up plans so volunteers don’t have to worry if they miss time because of an emergency or health issues.

Also, respect the fact that volunteers have other work and family commitments and their ability to volunteer may ebb and flow, while their passion for your organization may be as strong as ever.

Happy Holidays!