It is fun and exciting when you have a lot of motivated volunteers who have fun and work well together. Over time, you might notice that some volunteers are losing interest and that your team is showing some changes.
Most volunteers get involved because they are passionate about your cause and want to make a difference in the world. With this in mind, what led to the volunteer losing interest or becoming burnt out? And, what can you do to stop this from happening or to get the volunteer reengaged? It is important to identify and address these signs before they become damaging and lead to losing a valued volunteer. In this article, we have identified some signs to look for and possible ways to address them.
Signs that a volunteer might be losing interest or getting burned out:
The volunteer is cynical or negative when they used to be positive.
The volunteer shows anger or frustration more easily.
The volunteer seems to have lost enjoyment in the act of volunteering.
The volunteer shows distinctive changes in personality.
The volunteer was outgoing and is now more standoffish.
The volunteer starts confiding that they are feeling overwhelmed by the work, especially if they previously found it manageable.
Changes in reliability or productivity of the volunteer.
Changes in responsiveness from the volunteer.
Possible reasons why a volunteer is losing interest or becoming burnt out:
The volunteer has feelings of ineffectiveness and/or lack of accomplishment.
The volunteer does not feel like their work is having an impact.
The volunteer has not been given a specific task or role.
The volunteer has not been asked to give their opinion.
The volunteer feels that their personal life is not being respected.
The volunteer was not thanked or acknowledged for their service or contribution.
The volunteer has too much on their plate.
The volunteer is having trouble dealing with difficult emotions and/or situations that they’re encountering while volunteering
Strategies to combat loss of interest and burn out:
The best strategy to keep volunteers interested and avoid burnout is by making sure volunteers and their managers have great working relationships and open communication. Paying attention to and looking out for the signs we listed above is a great place to start. Engaging with and getting to know your volunteers is an important step in being successful with not only volunteer retention, but also being able to identify any volunteer issues. By watching for uncharacteristic behaviors in your volunteers, you may be able to solve issues before they become a problem.
Starting with open communication right when volunteers first sign up is the easiest way to implement this strategy. You should be honest about what the work will entail. You should also be upfront if the work will be emotionally challenging or may involve difficult and/or challenging situations. It is also important to be honest if a volunteer’s expectations do not fit the reality of the role they want to fill. Not doing so could lead to frustration and disappointment for you and the volunteer.
Another component of communication that can help to avoid loss of interest is to schedule regular check-ins with volunteers to ask how they are feeling about the work and solve any issues that they might be experiencing. Listen carefully to what they have to say and make any changes that you are able to. If they express that they are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, lighten their load or suggest that they try a different job.
Equally important is helping them realize their impact and the ways they are making a difference. Change is not always obvious and can take a long time. If you can share the story of their work, what it means to your organization, how it contributes to your mission and how it affects the community, they will feel like they are accomplishing their goal of making a difference. Otherwise, they may not get this information and may start to feel like they are ineffective or wasting their time.
Providing appropriate training sessions for your volunteers can also help avoid loss of interest. Making sure that the volunteers know exactly what to expect and giving them clear direction will help to make the volunteer feel valued and confident. Try to be flexible as possible regarding volunteer scheduling and respect their time. Try to be understanding if someone has to cancel or change their shift. We have all had last minute things come up. A good strategy is to provide some guidelines outlining what to do if a volunteer needs to cancel or reschedule a shift. This will make it clear that you are respecting that they are volunteering their free time.
Handling volunteers who have lost interest or are burned out:
Even if you have great communication and take preventative measures, loss of interest can still happen. If it does, and the volunteer lets you know, it is important to listen and be sensitive to what the volunteer is going through. This can go a long way in helping to keep them from feeling negative about their time volunteering or your organization. It may even lead them to come back when their circumstances have changed. If possible, ask what led them to become uninterested or burnt out. The information they provide could help you to improve your strategies and avoid loss of additional volunteers in the future.