July 2019 – Rick Szilagyi, Principal and Lauriane Lebrun, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

According to John Barrymore of HowStuffWorks, “Volunteer burnout is just like work-related burnout — only you’re not getting paid to barrel through it.  You’re tired, stressed, disengaged, resentful and at your wits end.  Your volunteer work is no longer fulfilling and you may find yourself making excuses (often health-related) for not attending to your responsibilities.”  This cartoon sums it up pretty well.

Sound familiar?  If so, you’ve probably also heard plenty about fighting volunteer burnout by taking up yoga, going away on a tropical vacation, or getting a massage.  And while self-care and relaxation are definitely important, there may be a better way to help prevent burnout in the first place: well-designed committees.

How to Set Up a Burnout-Resistant Committee:

  1. Organize your volunteers by talent, skill, and preference.  Below are the responsibilities we feel are necessary, plus what the committee member needs to WANT to do.  At a minimum, every committee needs:
    1. The Leader – Someone to establish SCHEDULED, RECURRING meetings and make sure progress is being made.
    1. The Analyst – Some people are energized by looking at numbers, others get groggy.  Every committee needs an analytical person who is going to produce information in a spreadsheet, especially relative to numeric goals.
    1. The Reporter – Someone committed to taking notes during a meeting and sharing this information with the rest of the committee.  This person also sends updates to the appropriate parties for inclusion in board packs, newsletters, etc.
  2. You may also want to include these roles in your committee structure, when relevant:
    1. The Procurer – Someone who is organized and willing to book your venue, order supplies, etc.
    1. The Volunteer Coordinator – This person is in charge of recruiting and/or organizing volunteers for your event or project.
    1. The Salesperson – An outgoing sort of person who can sell your story to potential vendors, sponsors, donors, etc. – and seal the deal to secure funding.
  3. Define roles in detail to help set expectations.  It’s hard to do a job well if you don’t know what the job is.
  4. Provide committees with the tools they need to succeed.  As a Board, make sure you aren’t asking your committees to buy things that the organization can’t possibly afford, for example.
  5. Reorganize when needed.  Suppose you accidentally placed someone who breaks out in a nervous sweat every time he gets on the phone to make a sales call in the Salesperson role.  Suppose your Procurer discovers she has natural talents as an Analyst.  Don’t wait for the next fiscal year to come around before changing their roles!  The sooner you rearrange, the sooner everyone can get off a runaway train headed straight for Burnout.

Why It Works:

  1. Strong committees lead to successful, happy volunteers, and to the success of the program for which the committee is charged.
  2. Strong committees are built purposefully.  They avoid the common pitfalls of falling behind schedule, behind budget, and behind in anticipated results.
  3. Work becomes easier and more enjoyable when already-existing interests, talents, and skills are put to good use.
  4. Easier work takes less time.  Volunteers can meet deadlines, feel good about their accomplishments, and not get overwhelmed.

What If You Need More Support?

Suppose no one on your board fits into the role of The Analyst, or you really need more than one Salesperson.  If you’re fortunate enough to have staff, an association management company, or an Executive Director—or if you’ve been considering working with any of the three—don’t forget that they can serve as excellent support for your committees.  The idea is to segment the workload as much as possible to reduce burnout, so be sure to take advantage of all the resources available to you.

Summary:As Chris Lemelin of McGregor Memorial EMS explains in his Lexian Board Member Spotlight article, keeping volunteering fun involves “finding that perfect niche where you are fitting into the organization’s mission while doing what you love.”  And that’s exactly what Burnout-Resistant committees are all about.     

The Lexian Management newsletter is for informational purposes only.

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