Why Volunteer Burnout is Not Their Fault

It's the end of the service and one of your volunteers asked if they can speak with you in private.  Your heart sinks.  You know what is coming.  You listen as the volunteer says,

"I'm going to have to stop serving.  My life is just too busy right now and I can no longer commit to this.  I'm sure you'll find someone else to take my place." 

Sound familiar?  I've experienced this many times over the years.  Though the volunteer didn't actually use the words "burned out," that is what they were feeling.  And if there was any finger pointing to be done, it should have been pointed at me.  They burned out because of poor leadership on my part. 

They burned out because I had placed them in the wrong serving role.  When I first met with them about serving, I had asked them where they would like to serve.  They said, "wherever you NEED me."  And that's exactly where I placed them...where I needed them.  The problem...it wasn't in a role that aligned with their gifts, talents, personality and passion.  This resulted in their serving becoming a burden rather than a blessing, a chore rather than a cherished hour and a duty rather than a delight.

If you want to see your volunteers go the distance with you, then don't place them where you need them, place them where they need to be.   

You can do this by asking one simple question.  Read more about it in this post

They burned out because I didn't set them up for success.  I shoved them into the role without providing adequate training.  I should have provided them with a clear job description, hands-on training for several weeks with an experienced volunteer and the proper resources they needed to succeed.

Rather than just saying "good luck" I should have provided them with "good training." 

They burned out because I didn't help them get connected.  I just assumed they would establish relationships.  I should have helped them by providing opportunities to connect with other volunteers outside the classroom.  I should have had them over for dinner with some other volunteers.  I should have grabbed coffee with them and some other key volunteers with no agenda but to spend time together.

They burned out because I demanded too much of their time.  I required them to come to a "teacher's meeting" too often.  And I made the meetings way too long.  And when VBS rolled around, they were the first person I asked about giving some additional time to help.  They finally stepped back and looked at just how much time I was asking from them and decided the cost was too high to pay.

They burned out because I asked them to stay over and serve an extra service.  I was short some volunteers for the next service, so I asked them to stay over and serve again.  This meant they would end up missing the adult worship service completely, but having to fill an empty spot was more important than that at the time.  I lost track of how many times I asked them to do this over the course of a year.   

They burned out because I didn't encourage them often enough.  I wasn't purposeful about stopping to look them in the eye and saying, "Thank you for your heart for the next generation.  You are making a huge impact.  Thank you.  I so appreciate you."  I didn't take the time to write them personal thank you notes either. 

They burned out because I didn't help them monitor how much they were serving.  I knew they were serving in multiple areas in the church, but didn't help them navigate what a healthy balance was.  In their zeal, they over committed and eventually something had to give.  And what ended up having to give was their serving role with me.

If you resonated with any of these, then it may be time for some fresh insight in how to enlist, equip and encourage volunteers.  You can get lots of tips and ideas on how to see volunteers go the distance in my new book "The Formula for Building Great Volunteer Teams."  You can order it by clicking on the image of the book below.


Your turn.  The floor is yours.  What are some other reasons volunteers burn out?  What can we do to help prevent it?  Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.