How to Recognize and Avoid Volunteer Burnout

how to recognize and avoid volunteer burnout

You do not have to be willing to throw in a towel to improve your volunteer experience. These little changes can make a big difference.

Volunteering is often necessary for non-profit organizations, especially when they are understaffed and overworked. But what happens when volunteers become frustrated and the joy of doing their job diminishes? They can burn out and then they have to act before it is too late.

Volunteer burnout can have a direct impact on the success of your organization. If volunteers push on, trying to resume daily activities, their overall performance may decrease. And their burnout will only get worse.

A burnout is often defined as a state of chronic stress that can lead to exhaustion, cynicism and withdrawal. The risk of burnout in volunteers increases over time, so it is important to identify and treat these symptoms before they become harmful.

The Signs of Volunteer Burnout

First, when suffering from volunteer burnout, it is possible that you see some major changes in your feelings and appearance, which may mean behavioral changes. For example, if someone regularly talks about their love of volunteering and enthusiasm for work, but now is complaining and sulking, it may mean that they feel exhausted from the role. Cynicism, anger, loss of pleasure and increased irritability are symptoms associated with burnout.

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Improving Volunteer Burnout

If you start to feel you’re burning out, you are better off taking a step back rather than grinding forward. Here is how to improve the situation.

Start with the Body

Your body is destined to regenerate and recover. So when you feel the effects of fatigue – prolonged fatigue, absence from work, and perhaps even weight gain and stress-related illness – it is a sign that your body’s requirements exceed its ability to keep up.

Giving your body what it needs is essential to prevent burnout. It can contribute to reducing the lack of energy caused by exhaustion and facilitate recovery by prioritizing three basic, universal needs: sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

Work on those three things and you will feel major improvements.

Work on Communication

Preventing burnout is easier when volunteers and their supervisors have stable working relationships with open channels of communication. It should start when the volunteer first comes into contact with the organization. Be honest about what work you want to be involved in. This is especially important for organizations dealing with emotional work, but also when a person’s expectations do not correspond to the reality in which they work (e.g. when they want to work with animals but cannot cope with them).

Be Mindful of Your True Personality

To avoid burning out, we must not only live the truth about our health and body, but also respect the truth about who we are.

In other words, we need to know what it restores and invest in it to prevent burnout. But what meets those needs for you may seem different from what meets those needs for someone else.

For example, a very outgoing person may need to spend time with friends or family every day after work to avoid being burned out. On the other hand, a very introverted person may need time to recharge. An introverted housewife I know starts and ends every day with a deep breath and has to do something on her own at least once a week, e.g. gossip, work in the garden, embroider or walk.

Realize the Reality of your Volunteer Role and Environment

The third element to avoid burnout is to live in the reality of your professional situation – what can really change and where you need to find alternative methods to meet your needs.

Remember that work pressure is only one of the six factors contributing to burnout. Control, reward, justice, community and values are the other five.

These other contributors are intended to give a sense of support, value and security. Ideally, you should change your current volunteer environment or find a new organization where all these areas meet your expectations. But in some cases this is not possible. In these circumstances you have other possibilities.

The alternative is to change your expectations. Another option is to stop expecting satisfaction in these areas as part of your work, and instead look for opportunities outside of volunteering that meet these basic needs.

You may not be able to change everything you don’t like about volunteering, but you have the opportunity to improve your self-esteem and your life in general.

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Overcoming Volunteer Burnout

You’ve made it this far. You, at least, deserve to enjoy what you do by now. Perhaps, all it takes is a simple change of mindset. Or maybe you must admit that the role and your expectations were never a match.
Don’t stress yourself to your maximum over a role that someone else could take over or which you are not fulfilling due to lack of motivation. Challenge yourself to overcome or step away before it is a burden for both parties.

Volunteer burnout is normal. Most long-term volunteers will go through a period of burnout. The question is how quickly you can regain the purpose and drive that got you involved in the first place.

If you are interested in CreativeVolunteer’s mission, you can reach us to talk with our team at

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