Tips on Preventing Volunteer Burnout

November 17, 2011 |

Worker beeLast week I finally added it up. I’m doing seven different volunteer jobs for my church this year. In case there was any doubt, it’s official: I’m a worker bee. But then again I’ve always liked the number seven, not to mention I very much enjoy all of the different things I do — choir, worship, redesign, etc., etc.

But there comes a breaking point. After two heavy-duty church weeks (a sermon one week, Music Sunday the next) last Saturday I finally had a few hours to myself. I was about to push myself into web work when a little bell went off in my head. It’s a bell I need to pay more attention to, and I expect I’m not alone in this.

The bell was… why? I mean that really fundamental why. Why do I go to church? Does church as a marathon long-distance sprint work? For that matter does any long-distance sprint work? Isn’t that a sure recipe for burnout?

If one of my fellow volunteers had a similar overload and came to me wondering about a break, I’d say go for it. ASAP. Don’t let burnout start.

So here are my first two tips for overbooked volunteers.

1. Pay close attention to that little voice in your head. It may not be as random or self-centered as it seems at first blush.

2. Do unto yourself as you would do unto others. (Is this the bronze rule?)

As it happened, once I put these responsibilities to one side and allowed myself to do what I needed to do, one of those life-altering moments unfolded.

An Aside

For those interested in the particulars, the sermon I gave two weeks ago was about my experiences in the wake of clergy misconduct that happened in my church many years ago. I’m very fortunate to be part of a trail-blazing congregation that has not run away from its past, but rather has done what it takes to recover. We now have not only a strong and wise lay leadership and two wonderful ministers, but we are growing at a steady clip.

The service was incredible and the response surpassed my wildest dreams. There’s been an outpouring of support and understanding in the days since, including our Social Justice committee wanting to figure out next steps to improve things.

All last week I either avoided or struggled with writing something that would help move things along. But Saturday I relaxed and Sunday, when listening to a sermon about death and love, it gelled. I realized that I no longer had to fear our denomination’s leadership, that I could approach them in a spirit of love. I learned a long time ago that in the end my anger, however righteous, hurts me the most. But this was another facet. As I let go of fear and toned my language down, I realized that speaking from love holds not only more hope, but also more power.

This would never have happened if I hadn’t slowed down. Whatever I’m doing when super-busy dominates my mind. Plus I get tired. Either would have precluded what happened.

Two last tips

Returning to website redesign…. How do you get back on track after one of these unexpected breaks? How do you not get lost in guilt or distraction? I have two more suggestions.

3. Make a date with yourself for your next step. Mine is early next Saturday morning over a cup of coffee, when I’ll start writing up the next redesign blog post.

4. If you are working on site redesign, be sure at the front end to budget in lots of time.

Yes, your congregation’s website matters. In fact, it matters a very great deal. But some things matter more.

Posted in: Volunteering

4 Responses

  1. UUpdater says:

    I sure hope your congregation appreciates all your efforts. I know I appreciate everything you have done to share with us outside your congregation (the blogs, this series, etc.) Thank you.

  2. Anna Belle says:

    Many thanks! Congregational appreciation seems to ebb and flow, doesn’t it? Right now for me it’s great, but it’s pretty much guaranteed there’s someone else who is working their tail off and not being noticed. I suppose it’s one of those perennial issues when you don’t have a volunteer coordinator. And this gets back to the question of Why? My core reason of late is becoming a better person. If happiness is the measure, my congregation does that in spades.

  3. Daisy says:

    Re: #2, I’d say it’s the PLATINUM rule! And speaking as just one in your congregation — thank you so very much.

  4. Anna Belle says:

    Dearest Daisy,
    Thank you so much. It means the world.

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