July 29, 2017

Preventing Volunteer Burnout

If I live long enough I may have to go to a nursing home.  Using my volunteers wisely makes it more likely they will continue to help me so I can stay in my home.  I use 7 strategies to keep my volunteers from burning out (13 years and counting).

1. Prioritize.  I cut down on the number of requests by identifying what I need versus what I want.  I need someone to get on a ladder to change the batteries in my smoke detectors.  These detectors are connected to my electrical system that maintains an ear-splitting screech when the battery dies.

2. Build trust.  People do not need special training to know when they are being taken advantage of.  When I ask for help
I let my volunteers know I do everything I can before I contact them.  For example, when I asked Peggy to tape a bag shut so I could return a coat in the mail, I explained I had affixed the return label but did not trust my sound hand to tape the end of the bag securely.  People feel good about helping when they know they are really needed.  This strategy builds trust.

3. My husband would groan rule.  I cannot ask people to do things that would make a husband groan.  I cannot ask someone to buy a live tree, transport it, drag it into my house, use an axe to trim the base so the tree fits in the stand, and tighten and loosen the tree stand to reposition the tree until it is straight.  After having live trees my whole life
I bought an artificial one.  John takes it out of the box and snaps the four pieces together.

4. Let them choose WHAT to volunteer for.  I e-mail a request and let people choose things they want to do.  Peggy who loves to sews repaired the sleeve on my raincoat.  Barbara who is a computer technician volunteered to help me set up the Bluetooth system in my new car.  Parts of a task a volunteer hates will not get done.  Letting people choose what to do means I do not risk rejection because I have asked the wrong person.

5. Let them choose WHEN to volunteer.  After they volunteer I ask them when would be a good time for them.  Everyone has busy lives so it is less of a burden when I fit into their schedule.

6. Make a list and stick to it.  Before someone comes I make a list of the things I need done so my volunteer knows when he or she is done.  I stick to the list instead of looking around and saying "there is one more thing I need you to do."  This list also reminds me to get materials my volunteers need.  Before John comes to replace the batteries in my smoke detectors I buy 9-volt batteries.

7. 80% rule.  The 80% rule means some things can be mostly correct rather than perfect.  After my stroke I gave myself permission to not make everything perfect.  For example, I do not make multiple trips around my bed so the bedspread is perfectly straight.  The seam of my bedspread is supposed to be where the edge of the mattress is (see the black line).  I think it is only fair to extend the 80% rule to my volunteers. Nobody wants to hear they did not do it the way I used to do it.


  1. The 80% rule is a good one. Unfortunately, I'm only up to 60% after 2 1/2 years post stroke. I find when volunteering being there is half the battle and the most important one. I was asked to head up my stroke groups peer visitation program. It is something I firmly believe in. I declined. I couldn't commit my personal resources as needed to the task right now.

  2. Taking care of your ill husband is your volunteer work. I don't know how you do half of what you do.

  3. This is remarkably good advice, expressed with wonderful clarity. Applies to lots more situations, too. I'd love to see it posted on Facebook. Will you? May I 'share' it there?

  4. I did not think of the larger implications. I do not go on Facebook but I'd be fine if you posted it.