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Using Boundaries to Prevent Volunteer Burnout

volunteer burnout

You and your volunteers are highly focused on helping others, yet volunteers may face burnout if they do not balance their efforts. Likewise, when you and others who lead and work within nonprofits are not functioning optimally, the entire organization suffers, as do the clients.

While there are many factors you cannot control, you can alter your approach to help yourself and all those working with you. Setting professional boundaries can effectively eliminate burnout and prevent it from returning.

Burnout or Stress?

Burnout and stress are not the same. Stress can often be alleviated or helped by simple self-care acts, such as a bubble bath or a quiet evening reading or listening to beautiful music. Often, stress is about too big of a workload or too many interruptions. Burnout, on the other hand, is more complicated. Its onset can come from having little to no support and a lack of funds, time, and resources, both physical and human. Ignored, burnout can even lead to clinical depression. The World Health Organization classified burnout as a specific condition in 2019.

Determining the Presence of Burnout

Resources such as the Maslach Burnout Inventory lay out factors to help determine the presence of this insidious condition:

  • Disconnection with staff, volunteers, work, and clients
  • Exhaustion at work, which can lead to frequent absences
  • Inability to perceive success, which often leads to weak motivation and efforts

If left unchecked, burnout may spread between individuals throughout your organization, disrupting all areas of service.

Professional Boundaries, Defined

Professional boundaries, both for you and for staff and volunteers, are explicit limits that allow for safe communication and interaction between you as well as the clients you serve. Include these boundaries in volunteer education programs and literature. You should explain to volunteers how setting proper boundaries directly affects the quality of their work with others.

Suggestions for Boundaries

Boundaries come in many forms, but these suggestions from Tobi Johnson of may be helpful:

  • Social media: If you already have social media policies in place, follow them. If not, set your own policies, and insist that everyone strictly follows them. For example, you may not want to connect with any of the volunteers working with you online, as some might see those private connections as favoritism.
  • Communications: Limit checking work email to a few times daily, and do not feel the need to reply to each one. If your job responsibilities involve social media, set a timer and then log off after that period.
  • Work-life balance: Even if you work from home, there must be clear division between work duties and your personal life. Be polite but clear about this with everyone.

Setting professional boundaries is not selfish or uncaring. Instead, doing so helps you function at your best. You and your volunteers are an integral part of making society better. When you and they are healthy and motivated, great things can happen!

About VIS

Volunteers Insurance Service Association, Inc. (VIS) was established in 1972 for the purpose of providing insurance and risk management services for volunteer-based organizations. In addition to still providing these insurance services today on a nationwide scale, we have expanded to provide noninsurance resources for members to manage their risks and improve their operations. By transferring the volunteer risk exposure to our program, we can help you protect your organization. Contact us today at (800) 222-8920 for more information on our programs and services. Join now!