Board Service Burn-Out Quiz and Recovery Plan


It is winter. There is no sun. The snow is falling and the stream of funds from the end of the year has slowed to a dribble. You have been doing this for a long time. You might have burn-out.

Take this quiz to find out if it's time to re-evaluate your volunteer job:

  1. You spend more the 50% of your therapy session talking about your volunteer job.

  2. Your spouse is threatening to name your nonprofit as the correspondent in your divorce proceedings.

  3. The meetings of your board are so unpleasant that you find yourself day dreaming of the good-old-days when you were on the front lines as an infantry officer in Vietnam.

  4. You dread a call from your organization to volunteer so much that you have a written list of excuses posted on the wall in the kitchen.

  5. You fantasize that if you won the lottery, the first thing you'd do would be to start another nonprofit to put the one you volunteer for out of business.

  6. Your board service is so stressful and your use of medication has increased so much that your health insurance company has offered a large donation if you will resign.

  7. You send all of the e-mails from your organization directly to spam, despite the fact that you are chairman of the board.

  8. You hire a consultant with your own money with the goal that you can get through a committee meeting without a member bursting into tears.

  9. You have gained more than 30 lbs, tripled your alcohol consumption or taken up smoking.

  10. You and another member of the organization are thinking of leaving together. The only thing you haven't decided for sure is who will be Thelma and who will be Louise.

What to do?  Burnout is in fact no joke. It can and does affect people's mental and physical health. It surprises some that it occurs not only when your have a paid position, but also in volunteer work.  Three steps to recovering your edge:

Burnout Recovery Strategy #1:
Chill out and take a break. This is easier said than done when you feel that if you don't get the work done, no one will. For some people, a weekend with no text messages, meetings or e-mails will give you the perspective to approach your volunteer work with more energy. For others, you might have to walk away for longer. If the organization falls to pieces without you, perhaps it is time to walk away for good. During this down time, write the three things that are most important in your life other than this commitment. If these things are being seriously compromised, think about whether it's time to move on.

Burnout Recovery Strategy #2:
Implement healthy habits. When you are holed up for hours with Cheetos and a flickering screen trying to respond to complex, nonsensical or infuriating e-mails, your blood pressure, attitude and effectiveness are compromised. Take a walk, eat healthier, cut down on the caffeine and go to bed earlier.  These are all simple concepts but not easy to do consistently. You might want to enlist a friend or relative to support you. Keep track of bedtime, food intake, and exercise. Make some notes on how you feel the next day after changing your behavior.

Burnout Recovery Strategy #3:
Set boundaries. Nonprofit work is a team sport. You don't have to go it alone. If you are, it is time to recruit someone to work with you. Find a co-chair who has different strengths than you have. Ask for a new role in the organization that fits your time and skill constraints. Or ultimately, find another group that fits your abilities, life and work style and priorities.

I will never forget working with a board president who was a major burn-out case. I told him, "Board service is an honor. Ideally, you should feel like you are accomplishing something, enjoy the people you are working with, grow intellectually and emotionally and have fun." He said, "This is less fun than war time Vietnam." He took 6 months off, joined another group and called me. He said, "Son of a gun. This is fun. And I'm getting something done." 

You don't have to give up volunteer work.  If the strategies outlined above don't work, you can divorce your current nonprofit and find joy with another!


Carol can help with your board burn-out and recovery...
Call her at 314.863.4422 or e-mail her at

February 2011



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