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“I’m close to quitting, just walking out,” Ruby, a wispy volunteer manager says tersely. “And so are some of the other staff at my organization. I don’t know, I just feel like I have to sacrifice everything for my job. Now, whether or not I feel that because of a certain culture in my organization or if it is just self-imposed, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I feel inadequate when I choose a family outing over a fundraising event on a Saturday or when I feel that I deserve more compensation. And what’s worse is I feel so incredibly guilty having these feelings. I mean, does managing volunteers mean I forsake any and all personal life and needs?”

Well, duh, Ruby. Or wait, does it? Once you’ve “become” a volunteer manager, does everything personal just fade away into this nirvana of blissful martyrdom?

Coincidently, a recent article on overworked non-profit workers published in Atlantic Magazine addresses this very idea and one of the interview quotes from this article is:

“The unspoken expectation is that you do whatever it takes to get whatever it is done for the people who you’re serving,” she says. “And anything less than that, you’re not quite doing enough.” Timm, Jonathan.  “The Plight of the Overworked Nonprofit Employee.”  The Atlantic Aug 24, 2016

Do we, in the non-profit world sometimes wear our “commitment” like a badge of devotion on our chests? Do we secretly lap up the comments like cans of energy drinks when telling people what we do for a living? “Oh, you’re so selfless,” “I could never do that work,” “thank goodness for people like you.”

Do we subtly feel this martyr attitude and does that translate into a self-sacrifice that is simmering under our weary feet waiting to burst into burn out? Do we feel guilty when we look at our colleagues who we imagine are selflessly working more and therefore care more? Does a nagging voice whisper, “If this is your calling, then how dare you complain (or ache or fall ill or blink)?”

So,  are we afraid to voice the following concerns to our superiors for fear of being selfish?

Asking for more resources (how dare we-precious money and resources need to go to the mission)

Mindfulness about overwork (if I don’t keep going, someone, somewhere won’t benefit)

Planning vacations, family time (family will just have to understand, THIS is more important than their needs)

Needing help with stress over working with tragedy (How can I possibly complain, heck, I have it pretty good compared to the clients I see)

Asking for a raise (Could I be any more selfish?)

When the hard stuff, like not enough understanding of what volunteer managers do, or too many requests from too many departments and no way to prioritize, or challenges with staff, or no perceived support starts to whittle away at your commitment, then burnout begins.

When we are embarrassed or afraid of asking for the help we need, we aren’t just doing a disservice to ourselves, we are actually hurting our volunteers and the very people we are here to help because we will not be any good to them if we are resentful or burned out.

So, if you have to, tell yourself that asking for the help you need is really about providing the best volunteer management for your clients and volunteers. Frame your requests to your superiors in that way: “In order to provide the best for our clients and volunteers, I will need….”

Because your “calling” is not to be a martyr, it’s to be a leader.