Managing and Preventing Chapter Volunteer Burnout

The concern always comes up when component relations professionals (CRPs) get together: how hard it is for chapters to recruit volunteer leaders, especially since the pandemic. Members are choosing different priorities and guarding their time more than ever.

Although this approach to life/work balance is understandable, the unintentional consequence is putting chapters at risk. If no one is willing to lead, what happens to the chapter and the members who depend on it for education, networking, and community?

It’s not an impossible situation. The solution is helping members alleviate and prevent burnout at work and creating a volunteer opportunity that doesn’t lead to stress and burnout.


Burnout usually begins in the workplace

59% of American workers experience some level of burnout. Is the situation in your industry better or worse? It’s not just happening in high-level positions. 46% of Gen Z and 39% of millennials feel stressed all or most of the time. Stress levels are even higher among women, LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities, and disabled professionals.  

If members are stressed at work, they don’t have the mental bandwidth to even consider volunteering.


Recognize the signs of volunteer burnout

You don’t want chapters piling more responsibilities onto someone who’s already on edge. Due to pride, guilt, or habit, members won’t always admit they’re struggling. Remind chapters how to spot volunteers who need a break.

Decreased enthusiasm and motivation. Volunteers say “no” more frequently. They don’t respond to emails. They don’t show up for meetings and events.

Dropping the ball. They don’t prepare or review materials before meetings. They miss deadlines. They do only enough to get by.

Change in attitude. They share more complaints and cynical or pessimistic remarks. They ignore or shut down ideas.

Causes of chapter volunteer burnout

Burnout can start at work, but many volunteers burn out because of outdated practices, namely “the way we’ve always done it”—a good reason to shake things up.

Recycled leadership. If members aren’t regularly scouted, recruited, and trained for leadership roles, the pipeline empties. Not wanting to leave their chapter in the lurch, leaders agree to stay and risk burning out.

Time-consuming roles. When board and committee roles demand too much time, members (and their employers) aren’t willing to invest the time or take on the stress.

Lack of purpose. If committees aren’t given an official charge from the board, they become task-, not strategy-driven. Without defined goals and board check-ins, they have no success metrics guiding them and end up doing meaningless volunteer work.

Inadequate support. Volunteers aren’t association management experts. Many have never run an organization or managed people. They’re not always given the training and guidance to perform their role successfully, either from staff or more experienced members. An involved volunteer manager can solve a lot of burnout issues.

Lack of recognition. Many volunteers who take on projects and programs feel taken for granted because they’re not appropriately recognized. Every volunteer hour deserves a thanks, not just during Volunteer Appreciation Week but throughout the year.

Consequences of volunteer burnout

Burned out volunteers stop physically or mentally showing up for meetings. With fewer members involved with program planning, and membership recruitment and retention, the member experience suffers. Valuable programs are discontinued or never implemented, such as new member outreach, membership ambassadors, lapsed member follow-up, and membership lead nurturing.

With empty officer, board, and committee seats, leadership succession becomes a crisis. Members notice vacant positions and exhausted leaders. They assume volunteer leadership is not something they want to take on.

When leadership lacks fresh voices, it becomes a stale echo chamber that doesn’t reflect the diverse membership or respond to the changing business landscape.

When members see leadership as a burden, they don’t take advantage of one of the most transformative chapter benefits—volunteering. They miss the opportunity to achieve their membership goals, like extending their network and acquiring new skills they can use in their careers.


7 strategies to prevent chapter volunteer burnout


Help solve the workplace burnout problem

Because burned-out employees will never volunteer, you must get to the root of the problem: workplace burnout. Raise industry awareness about employee wellbeing. Make the connection for employers between wellbeing-friendly workplaces and employee recruitment and retention.

To prevent and alleviate stress and burnout, offer wellbeing education for professionals and employers. Provide mental health resources: newsletter articles, videos, webinars, job-hunting and career coaching services, and peer support groups.


Rethink volunteer roles

Committees must have meaningful roles that move the chapter forward and provide a rewarding volunteer experience. Otherwise, sunset them.

Every committee must receive an annual charge from the board that:

  •         Outlines their goals and success metrics
  •         Keeps volunteers on task by aligning their work with chapter goals
  •         Forces them to prioritize and limit the number of projects

In volunteer position descriptions, clarify the hours and skills required, responsibilities, and tasks. Describe the benefits, for example, new skills, experiences, and networking.


Reduce the chapter volunteer workload

Members already have jobs. In the past, “martyr” leaders worked as many hours on the chapter as it took. But members (and their employers) have changed their tune. If chapter leadership requires too much time, members won’t volunteer and volunteers will burn out and quit.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Technology, like Billhighway, drastically reduces the time volunteers spend on financial and administrative tasks by centralizing and automating banking, finance, and membership processes. Show chapter leaders you’ve got their back by giving them tools that prevent stress and create a sustainable workload.

Spread the work around. Show volunteer management how to create microvolunteering opportunities—tasks that require less time from members. With microvolunteering, leaders can provide opportunities for others to contribute.

Encourage volunteer leaders to take half a year off for a research sabbatical so they can return to duty refreshed and full of new ideas. While they’re gone, keep them updated about what’s going on in leadership circles.


Connect chapter leaders with their community of peers

Let chapter leaders know they’re not alone. Offer a sense of belonging by connecting them with fellow leaders around your chapter network. Host an online community or Slack channel for existing, future, and former chapter leaders where they can talk shop, vent, receive and give advice, share successes, find inspiration, and develop relationships.

Offer to pair up new and veteran chapter leaders by position in an informal mentoring arrangement.


Offer opportunities for building skills

When you alleviate the chapter administrative burden, volunteer leaders have more time to acquire the skills needed for their role. Offer online training for all responsibilities: membership, event planning, education, marketing, finance, sponsorships, governance, and leadership.

Deliver training via live online sessions, videos, discussion forums by position, website resources, and one-page newsletters. In your online community or Slack, remind chapter leaders about these resources.

Offer leadership training to any chapter volunteers considering leadership one day. Interest more members in training by highlighting how they can use these skills in their career—an approach that will appeal to their employers too.


Create a supportive environment for volunteers

Regularly communicate with chapter leaders. Treat them like the VIPs they are by keeping them in the loop on HQ business. They should be “the first to know.”

Encourage chapters to practice transparent governance. Chapter members should know what their board and committees are doing—this removes the uncertainty about volunteering.

Ask volunteers for their opinions. They should believe that what they experience and think matters to HQ.

As a leadership perk, invite them to professional growth and goal-setting workshops. Help them think intentionally about their careers and the role of volunteering in it.

Cultivate a culture of inclusion and belonging. Identify and remove logistical and psychological barriers to volunteering and leadership that might prevent some members from raising their hand.

Remind volunteers that their chapter wouldn’t exist without them. Describe how their volunteer role contributes to the chapter and association’s mission and goals. Share data demonstrating their collective, group, or individual progress. Thank them individually in newsletters, personal cards and emails, and ringless voicemails.


Improve the volunteer leadership experience

Invest in making the chapter leader’s job easier with technology that eliminates the drudgery of banking, finance, and membership, and simplifies chapter management and administration. When they spend less time on chapter busywork, they have more time for the volunteer responsibilities they enjoy—making a difference in the lives of their fellow members.

Billhighway is the chapter-in-a-box solution your chapter leaders have been waiting for. It integrates with existing software to automate accounting and membership processes and handle online banking. It gives HQ and chapter boards visibility into chapter performance.

Chapter service should be something members look forward to doing, not dread doing. Volunteers can turn into a non-renewable resource unless you give them the tools they need to manage their responsibilities in a limited amount of time. Find out how Billhighway can help you eliminate and prevent chapter volunteer burnout.


You receive a lot of emails…we get it. Subscribe to the content you want and we’ll do the rest! We send updates on new articles, guides, webinars, events, conferences and more. Receive awesome resources in your inbox every month >>

About the author

Sarah has a soft-spot for component relations professionals (CRPs), creating amazing experiences, and having a good laugh. She focuses her time at Billhighway on building and delivering chapter-focused resources, creating unique experiences for CRPs through webinars, events and the one-of-a-kind Component Exchange (CEX). Sarah is passionate about exploring new ideas and trying new things. What we really want to say is Sarah is a component bad@$$ who is sure to put a smile on your face.