Avoiding That Non-Profit Volunteer Burnout

This post is the seventh in a series of posts based on the “Best Practices for School Auctions” whitepaper  from the Greater Giving Fundraising Excellence Series. Each new post covers the unique challenges school auction planners face, and how to overcome those challenges. Read additional articles: School Auctions Series

Volunteers are not paid and not required to show up every day but they are essential to making your event successful.

Without them, you won’t get very far. How do you create an environment where they want to come back? How do you avoid volunteer burnout?

Causes for Burnout

It’s important to remember that your volunteers are giving you one of their most precious resources: their time. All of us tend to put our time into things we find worthwhile and/or enjoyable. If the stresses are too high or the rewards are too low, we will choose to put our time into something else. Here are some of the factors that can lead to volunteer burnout:

  • Volunteers new to their roles and responsibilities, including the auction chair.
  • Too-short timelines, creating unnecessary stress.
  • Overly emotional commitment to the cause.
  • Lack of appreciation / recognition for their efforts.
  • Lack of success.

Create an Environment for Success

Success breeds success. People who feel successful in what they’ve been asked to do, will be more likely to say yes again next year. If you want your volunteers to stay, create an environment where they can thrive.

  • Document everything related to a task to reduce the learning curve. Maybe even compile it in an Auction Handbook and use it when assigning specific tasks.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel—invent a process that works and repeat it. Document it so future teams know what to do.
  • Start early to get more execution runway, that way tasks can be completed with less stress.
  • Give your volunteers tools to help them succeed: training, technology, documentation, and mentoring.
  • Empower your volunteers by giving them the information they need to make the necessary decisions related to their task.
  • Set a budget for food and beverages for your volunteers. Breaking bread together helps build camaraderie.
  • Show appreciation for all your volunteers, no matter how small the task.
  • Treat your volunteers with respect.
  • Listen to their ideas—use one, and they’re hooked.
  • Make meetings pleasant. This helps everybody.
  • Re-assign volunteers, if necessary, to maintain morale.
  • Reward your volunteers for their effort. Make it fun!
  • Acknowledge that their time is valuable and appreciated.
  • Send thank-you letters to your volunteers after the event.
  • Hold an appreciation party for your volunteers after the event.

What’s Your Experience?

How do you keep your volunteers engaged? How do you reward your volunteers for all the effort they put into making your event a success? What creative ways have you found for showing your appreciation? What is the most important thing to remember in working with volunteers? Share your insights in the comments below. We’d love to hear what works for you.

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