Volunteer Boundaries

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faultHave you ever been described as “generous to a fault’?

Volunteering is a wonderful, generous  way to spend our time but we all have a breaking point. If we don’t have volunteer boundaries there’s a pretty good chance we are headed for a crisis. Call it burn-out fatigue, or what-have-you – it’s the point where it all piles up and makes us doubt whether we can keep going.

I can’t tell you exactly what boundaries you need to set up, I can share some basic thoughts that will help you find them. You may be headed for burn-out if your boundaries are being crossed by these thoughts –

If I don’t do it nobody else will. 
If nobody else will take on a position or task maybe isn’t as important as we think. It could be the last person who filled that role burned out because they ignored their own boundaries and made the role so big that nobody else want’s to take it on.

Nobody really knows how to do this like I do.
Maybe the real problem is “If I don’t do this nobody else will do it the way I think it should be done”.  Yes, no one will actually do it just like you do. They will change things and change is not always bad. Did you do the job exactly like the last volunteer? Probably not. Half the joy is finding your own way, right?

It’s easier to do myself than show someone how it’s done.
This may be true but volunteering is not always about efficiency. Sometimes it is about opening up opportunities for other volunteers so they can share in the accomplishment. You are on member of a volunteer team, if you try to be a hero it’s more than likely you’ll  flame out in a dramatic but short-lived  blaze of glory.

To avoid volunteer burn-out do you best to:

Leave delegated responsibilities alone
Don’t micro-manage others, give them the task, offer your advice, point out the resources and let them at it. Our fellow volunteers will sometimes break commitments or make minimal efforts that they would never consider proper in paid work. We cannot change this, we can only factor it into the equation. It’s hard to delegate if you doubt that people will follow through, but you have to do it anyway. If they fail, it’s up to the team, not just you, to fix things.

Focus on the goal
Concentrate on the goal and not the precise methods of a given task. If  the goal is a cup of coffee do you really care if it’s made in a percolator or a french press if we have a cup of coffee when all is said and done?

Know your limits
Setting boundaries can be tricky because there’s seemingly no end to the possibilities. If we’re not careful we can get sucked down into a vortex of ever-expanding commitments. We all have blind spots that distort our judgement, our emotional investment can cause this:

  1. Parents can never totally stop being parents and become unbiased volunteers where their children are concerned.
  2. Longtime volunteers who have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into something are defensive of their work.

You have these blind spots and so do I, we need others to help us identify them.

Say ‘no’

Sometimes no is the right answer. Scouters are good people with a heightened sense of responsibility and feel guilty if they say no.  We can’t  do everything, right? Don’t allow a sense of duty or guilt trump your good sense, say no sometimes.

Volunteering is a gratifying and enriching experience; we feel good when we help others. Volunteering takes a lot of time, a lot of effort and it does take a toll on us. If we don’t have boundaries we’ll burn out, and that doesn’t help anyone.