Balancing Volunteering with Work and Life

What Is Volunteeraholism?


Volunteers are by nature an ambitious lot, which is obviously great for the organizations who rely on their generosity to get work done. But an occupational hazard to which volunteers often succumb is volunteer-a-holism. Like its cousin, workaholism, this affliction starts off quite innocuously but can start doing harm long before the victim is even aware of it.


In my career, I’ve seen this in many incarnations. As a teacher, I’ve worked with young and ambitious students who bit off more than they could chew, ignored advice about balancing their lives, and completely burned out half way through the school year. As a Civil Air Patrol Deputy Squadron Commander, I’ve seen volunteers making their volunteering a higher priority than their families and friendships, with obvious and unfortunate consequences. As an Assistant Stage Manager, I’ve seen volunteer actors neglect their own physical well-being, so that by the time rehearsals finished and the show was in production, they were already drained to tears. I’ve seen recent retirees filling their newfound time with volunteering and becoming even more time-crunched than they were when working.


Perhaps you’ve seen these things too. Perhaps you see it in yourself. I know that I have certainly fallen victim to volunteeraholism in my earlier years, although I’d like to say that I’ve matured and learned how to avoid it.


Busy Volunteer


How To Encourage Life Balance In Your Volunteer Organization


This article is not about how to maintain balance in your own life. It’s about how you as a leader can help make sure it doesn’t happen to people in your organization. Because if it does, it’s your organization that becomes less effective. The following three tactics have worked well for me, and they may work well for you too.


Encourage others to delegate

As a leader, you’ve learned that you can’t do everything yourself, but the volunteers that you are guiding may not have learned this yet. When I give someone a task and I know that there is extra bandwidth in our groups, I explicitly say that they should find someone else to help. Sometimes I even suggest specific people that would be a good match for the project.


Just because someone is in charge of fundraising, for example, doesn’t mean that they personally need to do all of the fundraising themselves. It only means that they are responsible for making sure the fundraising gets done.


You might need to help your volunteers do this at first. But eventually, they will learn how to recruit help and organize projects on their own.


Be respectful of other people’s schedules

If you are meeting on a Thursday and tell your group that they need to be at a fundraiser on Saturday, eager volunteers will probably sign up and do it out of a sense of obligation. But what they won’t tell you is that they are probably sacrificing personal plans in order to do so. If this becomes a habit, it might develop into volunteeraholism.


Watch out for yes men

If you have one rockstar go-to person who you can count on to do everything, watch out, because that person will probably burn out in a couple of months. And then who will you go to? Spread the work load.


Other Ideas?

I’d love to hear from you if you have other ideas or comments about this issue. Discuss on Facebook.


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