Give Volunteers A Break

How well do you care for your volunteers?

by Gay Wall/ December 23, 2015

Volunteers are one of the most valuable resources within any organization.  This is true whether it is the local church, district or the national office.  They are people who care and choose to serve beyond their normal responsibilities.  Since volunteers are a gift from God and the engine that moves ministries forward, leaders need to honor their service by intentionally protecting them from burnout. 

Leaders who give volunteers a good written plan during recruitment build trust, confidence, and relief that they are not entering a commitment without escape.  People work with more energy when they know that the ministry in which they are serving respects their time and wellbeing.  

James Robbins, an organizational leadership trainer, says, “Over the years I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of volunteers.  They are awesome.  As much as volunteers are amazing, finding them has never been more challenging.  People are busier now than they have ever been in history.  This shortage has meant that many volunteers are taking on more than they can handle, resulting in volunteer burnout.  Burnout at the volunteer level is a very serious problem and in fact, when a volunteer overextends themselves for too long, the consequences can be huge. . . In fact when volunteers quit because of burnout, it takes a long time to get them back.  So when you think of the volunteers that you lead, remember, if you do not take care of them and help manage their load, you might end up losing them for a very long time, if not for good.” 

I want to repeat that last sentence, “So when you think of the volunteers that you lead, remember, if you do not take care of them and help manage their load, you might end up losing them for a very long time, if not for good.”  Careless leadership can do short and long-term harm to the gifts that God has blessed our ministries with by not purposefully managing their wellbeing.  

Here are a few resources that can help us develop a good volunteer plan that will lessen the chances for burnout: 

Kelly Anton describes 10 Ways to Prevent Volunteer Burnout from her personal experience as a volunteer mom in PTO, sports, and Scouts. These tips are equally relevant to the church world, where many parents are volunteering with their children at school and at church. James Robbins provides a few additional suggestions in his 5 Steps for Preventing Volunteer Burnout. 

How to Prevent Volunteer Burnout challenges us to take care of volunteers using a quote from Elizabeth Andrew as a cornerstone: “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.” 

Heather Joslyn and Christine Yackel give pointed insight in their article, “How Charities Prepare Volunteers for Intensely Emotional Work.” This seems particularly valuable to service ministry volunteerism, as we know that the work with children can often be emotional, which adds another layer of consideration to selecting, caring for, and keeping volunteers. 

My top four takeaways from these resources are: 

  1. Have a personal connection with your volunteers—let them know they are more than just filling a role or need in your ministry. Judges 5:9 “My heart is … with the willing volunteers among the people” (NIV).
  2. Make sure to have clear communication and a clear understanding of what each volunteer is supposed to be doing. Communicate with reminders, thoughts and/or praise about what the volunteers are doing, and gives updates as needed.
  3. Continually give appreciation, praise and thanks to your volunteers for their commitment, dedication, and service. Give more than just at Christmas time; give thanks often throughout the year. Judges 5:2 “When the people willingly offer themselves—praise the Lord!” (NIV)
  4. Plan time off periodically. Volunteers may not want to disappoint you, but they still need a break. It is best if you can already have time off scheduled in your volunteer guidelines.