Have 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:
- Parents can never totally stop being parents and become unbiased volunteers where their children are concerned.
- 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.
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.
Frank Maynard says
Speaking as a committee chair who has historically been bad at delegation, I can confirm that learning to delegate is your only chance for sanity. There are very few things that need to be done personally by the committee chair: Chairing the committee meetings, vetting and approving volunteers, and dealing with the Scoutmaster, Chartered Org Rep and the council. The rest can all be delegated, in whole or in part.
Delegation follows the very same steps as we follow with our youth leaders: Train ’em, trust ’em, and let ’em lead.
– Identify the task to be delegated. Compartmentalize it as much as possible.
– Identify the committee member in whose area of responsibility it falls. (Equipment? Money? Membership?)
– Delegate the outcome, not the work to be done.
– Give the committee member total authority to own the task and its solution.
– Thank and praise the committee member upon completion or significant milestones.
I’m very fortunate to have good people who share the mission and vision and are willing to take things on. This is a benefit of a larger troop in that there is a greater pool of parents and the higher likelihood that the “right” person is out there.
Dave Maple says
The most difficult time to try and delegate is when I have not prepared for it. I will have a plan that seems complete, but when it comes time to delegate, I am not sure what I can assign to others. Or, I will get so busy that I cannot think of what the next steps are until I finish what I am doing now.
To resolve this problem, I have started to include delegation in my planning. Then it is just a matter of going over the plan with everyone and they all know what is needed.
Larry Geiger says
“Nobody really knows how to do this like I do.”
“Did you do the job exactly like the last volunteer?” No, I did it better 🙂
This one is a problem for me. I’ve been around a long time and sometimes this is true. Sometimes I’ve been on more campouts to more places than five or six other adult volunteers combined. I like to stretch the Scouts and push them in the outdoors. I’ve learned to back off. It’s true that I can sometimes hold the Scouts interest and do some things that the other adults can’t or won’t do. That does not mean that I should do them.
It works somewhat the same as with the Scouts. If I don’t back off the adult leaders never get pushed to lead and guide those things. It should be the boys and the program that is pushing them onward, not me.
My current Troop was camping out about three times a year in a local city park. The same park every time. Every campout was essentially the same. They had no annual plan and a very mediocre outdoor program. I showed up and started pushing. It turned out pretty good up to a point but then they started balking some. They just didn’t want to go quite as far as I wanted to go.
As I have backed off, they’ve mellowed some. They sometimes go to the same campsite twice in one calendar year. They cut back from two backpacking and two canoe trips to just one of each. They even did the same canoe trip two years in a row! It’s what they want to do and what they are comfortable doing. The current leadership is very comfortable and feels safe at the current activity level. They have an annual plan, they are camping every month and they understand Scouting. The committee is very strong. It’s all good. It’s just taken me a while to trust them and leave them alone.
I am doing for the adult leadership what Scout leaders are supposed to be doing for the boy leadership. If they had backed off too far I might have said something or complained but they are doing fine.
Tom Gillard SM T-402 says
I am continually working on these items. Some are harder to do than others. The last one is probably the hardest, especially when the person asking for help is standing right in front of you.
Thanks for the reminders.