When to Say “When” – Drawing Boundaries on Volunteerism

Solopreneurs and new business owners, especially those just starting out, can benefit big from volunteering in their Draw the linecommunities. Not only does involvement help organizations in need, but it can also lead you to new professional connections, allow you to develop new skills, demonstrate your leadership capabilities, and enable you to beef up your portfolio.

Powerful stuff! But as you dig in and commit your time and energy to volunteerism, be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. Volunteering should be a win-win. The organization and the community should benefit from your involvement; the experience should give you a positive return on the hours, talent and effort you’re investing to the cause. It should enhance, not detract from your personal and professional life.

Here are a few signs and signals that you may have taken on more than is good for you and/or your business:

  • You’re unable to find time to network to effectively build your business.
    Although volunteering gives you the opportunity to make connections, it might not afford you the ability to directly promote your business or services to the people you meet. If your commitment takes too much time away from your business development activities, you could be missing out on attracting new clients and generating revenue.
  • You’re not “present” with your family – even when you’re in the same room with them.
    It’s likely that physically you can’t always be around your loved ones as much as you’d like to when working on your business.  So when you are, they deserve the attention of your whole brain. Being in business for yourself takes plenty of mental energy in its own right, adding significant volunteer responsibilities on top of that will further push you to your limits. If you’re constantly distracted and thinking about other things when in the company of your family and friends, consider re-evaluating and adjusting your volunteer roles.
  • You’re irritated rather than energized.
    Volunteering should make you feel good. Sure, you’re giving precious hours and talents, but if the volunteer opportunity is the right fit, you’ll nearly always feel rejuvenated by your commitment. If you find that you’re consistently dreading meetings, getting annoyed by emails and phone calls from others in the organization, feeling resentful about donating your time and skills, or all of the above, you might need to cut the cord or drastically set some boundaries on what you will – or won’t do – as a volunteer.

Again, volunteerism is a marvelous way to breathe life into your business and personal life. Just be aware that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Before you commit, do an honest assessment of the amount of time you can – and are willing – to spend. If you’re already committed and have found yourself on the verge of burn out, make a change – and don’t feel guilty about it.

Has volunteerism played a role in your professional life? How have you kept your volunteer commitments in check so they’ve continued to work for – rather than against – your business?

6 comments on “When to Say “When” – Drawing Boundaries on Volunteerism
  1. Oh we have had this conversation before, have we not? There’s also this mandate creep where people believe “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” I could not agree with you more. Now to plot a graceful exit strategy…

    • dawnmentzer says:

      Indeed we have, Domininque! I’ve taken my own advice, and it has made a major positive difference. I still give of my time, but I have much healthier boundaries drawn. Ah yes, the old “if you want something busy done…” Sadly, that tends to be true, but it could be pushing the busy person over the edge!!!

      Hang in there – and keep me posted!!

  2. I agree that volunteerism is a wonderful opportunity to help your community as well as creating an entirely new network of professional contacts. I commend you for mentioning that it must be a win win for both the organization and you. Like anything, when we give our time and effort to something, it must benefit us as much as the organization. This is not often said or written, but it is very true.

    This post hits close to home for me. I have been a volunteer with Junior Achievement of Central PA for six years now, and I recently had to politely ask if I could step down from the special events chair I was elected to back in May. When I accepted the nomination, I had no idea that I would be unemployed in less than two months and also back in school full time getting my Masters Degree. The organization was wonderful in backing up my decision, which had to be made because I just couldn’t give it my full effort.

    • dawnmentzer says:

      I’m glad the post was timely for you, Kris. And I’m happy that the organization was so understanding about your decision. As you said, it’s difficult to know what the future holds or what changes and challenges you’ll encounter professionally and personally that might affect your ability to fulfill your commitments. And sometimes it’s not easy to know precisely how much time and focus a volunteer position will demand until you’re actually in the role. Something like a special events chair would have a lot of moving parts!

      Congrats on knowing “when to say when!”

  3. timethief says:

    Well said. My husband and I learned this lesson the hard way. Yes, we still volunteer but we no longer run ourselves ragged trying to meet the expectations that others have.

    • dawnmentzer says:

      Thank you! I’m glad to hear that you’ve found a way to give back without giving way too much. It’s tough to say “no” at first because it seems all nonprofits have a shortage of volunteers. But when the demands aren’t realistic and time commitment sustainable, it’s time to step back and draw the line. So many people have a hard time doing that, and then they leave volunteerism behind altogether. I applaud you for finding balance!

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