The reality of the 20 percent rule for volunteers

By Dr. Daryl Green, Contributing Writer

Dickinson Chair of Business, Assistant Professor of Business

When I was attending Southern University in Louisiana, I was a part of a social organization called the Port City Association.  There were a variety of community projects we had to participate in while still maintaining our grades as a college student. Yet, we had our fair share of fun, such as going on Spring Break trips.  These trips would require us doing a lot of fundraisers too help defray the travel cost.  Despite our organization having over 100 members, we would find the same few members doing all the work associated with the organization.

Yet, when the Spring Break trips were nearly upon us, we would find an increase in meeting attendance and numerous requests to attend the trip.  Even though we had placed a policy that members needed to work in order to get the benefits of the fundraisers, we still found members making excuses for why they didn’t participate (i.e. studying) and who expected to receive the same benefits as the faithful 20 percent.  Well, I’ve been out of college for several years.  However, I find myself seeing the same faithful 20% support organizations across the country. Bison Hill is not the exception. This article examines how to assist individuals in coping with volunteerism so that they do not burn out.

With the ever-growing demands of social needs, faithful volunteers must equip themselves with coping strategies.  Volunteering is a part of a true American tradition. A volunteer can be defined as “a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service.” In most of the community or social organizations, including churches, you have 20 percent of the people doing 80 percent of the work. We, the emotionally drained 20 percent, call this fact troubling, and in academia, we call this the Pareto Principle.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2013, over 60 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2012

and September 2013. Married persons volunteered at a higher rate (30.7  percent) than did those who had never been married (20 percent).  Among employed persons, 27.7 percent volunteered.  In an annual research report, the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship, noted that volunteering remains a strong component of the fabric in our nation across several generations.  The report found that one in four adults (26.5 percent) volunteered through an organization in 2012, volunteering nearly 7.9 billion hours. In fact, volunteers age 65 and over spent a median of 90 hours on volunteer activities, which was the highest among any age group.

Volunteers must recognize how to be productive in their volunteering role without burning themselves out.  The medical definition of burn out is ‘an emotional condition marked by tiredness, loss of interest, or frustration that interferes with job performance. Burn out is usually regarded as the result of prolonged stress.

Some volunteers have allowed others to overburden them with responsibilities and more work because they are the faithful 20 percent.  Consequently, some volunteers have decided to walk away from these organizations.  In fact, the volunteer rate was at one of the lowest points in 2013 since this statistic was tracked.  Some of this decline has to be attributed to personal burn out.

Kenneth Haugk, author of Christian Caregiving: A Way of Life, understands the heavy cost that comes with helping others out. Volunteering can come at a great price. Dr. Haugh notes, “When you, a caring individual, relate to someone in such a plight, you can be tempted to jump into the mud in order to assist him or her out of the mud hole. If you do this, you are over identifying with the other person. That is, you reach a level of emotional entanglement at which the other’s pains, problems, and emotional burdens become your own.” Individuals need to examine their own circumstances and health before it’s too late.  The Mayo Clinic has provided has proved the following criteria to determine work burn out (Ask yourself the following questions):

•Have you become cynical or critical at work?

•Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?

•Have you become irritable or impatient with others?

•Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?

•Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?

•Do you feel disillusioned about your job?

•Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not to feel?

•Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?

•Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?

If an individual answered yes to any of these questions, he or she may be experiencing burn out.

As OBU and other community-based organizations answer the call of public service to society, they must count on the faithful 20 percent.  This article demonstrated that individuals who volunteers face challenges including burn out. Yes, there is always that group of concerned individuals will always answer the call of service, at times to their own detriment.  To prevent burn out, volunteers need to understand their limits and be willing to say ‘no’ to leaders and others when it is beyond their reasonable service.  Pray that it’s not too late.

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