do you draw the line with the organization you volunteer for? There is
always so much work to be done, and if you respect and believe in the
cause, how do you know when you need to say ‘no’ to the next request?
you’ve signed up to volunteer with a great organization, for an
important cause. You’ve put your best effort into the work, and you’ve
discovered it to be more rewarding than expected. So far, so good. Now,
6 months later, you hate to admit it, but these days you’re just not as
enthused. Like the monotony that settles into some relationships after
the honeymoon period, you wonder if the “glow” of this once new and
exciting endeavor has worn off. It doesn’t make sense really, because
everyone is so nice and you’re constantly being thanked, but
still….the doubt keeps nagging.
Frankly, you wonder if anyone
at the organization really understands the value of your time. And it’s
not that you can’t handle the more mundane work. You understand mundane
– sometimes it’s just what needs to be done. What you can’t handle is
being asked to do everything. Everything. If there’s an empty slot,
they call you. Someone needs to stay late? Yup, you. Oh, and arrive
early? Yours truly. Every time. You have a distinct sense of your
dependability being taken advantage of. Even with all the “thanks,”
you’re feeling a little used.
Here’s an idea: maybe you should
do a time assessment and assign a dollar value to the hours you’re
spending at the organization? Except….that feels a little dirty. It’s
like telling your best friend how much he’s worth to you and expecting
him to respect you for it. Yeah….never mind. It just feels wrong.
Still, how do you know where to draw the line?
The good die young
my experience, it is the best, most loyal and invested volunteers who
ask these kinds of questions. And usually, you ask them because you
volunteer with a passionate, cause-driven, mission-focused non-profit.
We all love to work for this type of organization. What they do matters
enough that they’re able to make believers out of anyone who stands
still long enough to hear what they have to say. Unfortunately, the
tremendous importance of their cause can potentially obfuscate the
value of the people who are there to help achieve it.
of course, start out entirely ignorant of this recipe for burnout that
awaits you. You dive in with absolute abandon. You find respect and
admiration growing in you for the people you work with. You fall in
love with the mission. You’re invigorated by the seemingly endless need
for your personal contribution. Each day there is more work to be done,
new milestones to achieve, greater good to give. But somewhere in
there, that nagging feeling begins to creep in as you realize that the
demand far exceeds your resources. And yet, you really believe in this
thing, so you tell yourself to find a bit more time, create a wider
margin, give just a little more.
Next thing you know, the thanks
you’re receiving just isn’t enough. Even the plaques and public
acknowledgment are beginning to come across a little insincere. Do they
really understand why you’re there or what you’ve been giving? You feel
a pair of unwelcome and conflicting emotions building inside of you:
guilt and resentment.
Setting limits or creating a meaningful
gauge can help a little, but it will always feel like you’re selling
out, giving up, losing the faith. Eventually the time will come where
the stress is no longer worth the effort, and you’ll take a break or
decide to leave. Maybe a more suitable opportunity will present itself
down the road.
It’s all about give and take
Okay, here’s what you do: Start taking rather than giving.
know, I know, it’s better to give than to receive, right? Well, yes,
that’s right. But what I am advocating is sustainable giving. When you
decide what, why and how much you’re willing to give, both you and the
non-profit will experience long-term benefit. Giving for these reasons
is healthier and longer-lasting than giving for banal praise or general
appreciation. You didn’t get into this thing so that everyone would
think you’re a great person. (Ok, maybe you did – but I guarantee you
that’s not why you’re still there after all this time.)
and think through why you got involved with volunteering in the first
place – and specifically why you chose the organization you’re with.
What was it that you connected with? What ideas reached something
meaningful inside you? Who moved you to become involved? In what ways
did you hope volunteering would change your life? Focus on these things
and strictly limit the rest. Your enthusiasm for serving on the soup
line does not obligate you to chair the board. If you came to
participate in the river clean-up, you don’t have to stay late to clear
out just because you’re known as the “go-to” guy. Do what you love.
That’s it. This is your highest level of contribution. When you step
outside of who you’re meant to be, you will inevitably diminish your
contribution and begin the path to burn-out.
I promise you this:
If you focus on what you get out of the experience and give yourself
permission to remain faithful to it, you won’t have to ask these kinds
of questions anymore.
It’s not that non-profits don’t benefit
from new volunteers who arrive full of passion and enthusiasm. They
certainly do. I mean, at the beginning, it’s mutual euphoria! The
non-profit has renewed hope with someone positive and dependable to
send work through, and the volunteer feels like a god with all the
gushing praises like, “How did we ever make it without you?” It’s
wonderful! And….it’s the beginning of a perpetually damaging cycle of
enabling and codependency. When the euphoria wears off, both parties
feel betrayed. The nonprofit feels their volunteer is ungrateful for
the privileged work they provided, while the volunteer feels conned
into bearing the weight of the organization’s survival.
sides are responsible to work for the solution. Organizations must
begin to acknowledge that the health and growth of the volunteer is
vital to their own health and growth. Volunteers have got to stop
giving so damn much, and take a little. It’s only when they are
confident of the value of what they are receiving that volunteers will
have anything meaningful to give.
It is always better to give than to receive. As long as we’re giving at our highest level of contribution.