manage expectations while volunteering
30 Jul
  • By Dayle Kavonic
  • Cause in

How To Manage Your Expectations As A Volunteer

Volunteering can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it can also be draining, disheartening and disenchanting. Many well-meaning individuals enter into volunteer arrangements with grand hopes and goals, only to find that they aren’t able to foster the kind of change they desire to. Many others give far too much of themselves, far too quickly, only to find themselves mentally and emotionally exhausted (yes, volunteer burnout is a real thing.)

And here’s the catch: if you’re not the best version of yourself – if you’re frustrated, bored, cynical or dispirited – you’re going to struggle to keep giving in a sustainable manner.

You’re going to battle to do justice to your commitment. So it’s critical, both for your own health and for the sake of the NPO you’re assisting, that you both guard your heart and manage your expectations while doing good. But that’s much easier said than done, right? How do you protect yourself from pain and keep an open mind when volunteering? Here’s some helpful advice from us at Brownie Points and from seasoned volunteer Jessica Kavonic.


Be Realistic About What You Can Achieve

No matter how pure your intentions are, and no matter how much time you dedicate to a cause, chances are you’re not going to save the world. You might not even see much change on the ground at all. If you start volunteering with the expectation that you’re going to transform hundreds of lives and entirely rejig the system, you’re most likely going to be disappointed.

“Everyone wants their actions to make a huge difference, but things might not pan out the way you want them to, and that’s okay. You have to realise that some things simply aren’t within your control, and that at the end of the day, you’re just one piece in the puzzle” – Jessica Kavonic

Change is often slow. NPO’s goals are typically quite lofty and geared at long-term transformation. And there are generally lots of factors you don’t have power over that will impact your ability to make progress. It’s important to remind yourself that simply by contributing something, you are laying the groundwork for objectives to be met eventually. Whatever you’re doing, no matter how insignificant it may feel, is pushing the NPO forward in some capacity. So, keep your eyes on the big picture, don’t get bogged down in the details and try not to take setbacks too personally.


Do Your Research

The actual experience of volunteering might not line up neatly with what you thought it would entail. To shrink such gaps, make sure you know what you’re getting into beforehand. What are you really going to be doing in your volunteer role? Will you be working directly with the rescued turtles you so desperately want to help? Or will you be cleaning feeding equipment in a back room?

“If you struggle to get clarity on what will be required of you from the organisation, define your own parameters and set your own goals. It’ll be easier to manage expectations if they’re clearly laid out” – Jessica Kavonic

A good way to get a feel for what it’s actually like to work with a particular NPO is to speak to a volunteer who’s already based there. They should be able to give you a sense of the on-the ground challenges (and joys, of course).


Expect Nothing in Return

Many volunteers go into a philanthropic arrangement with the expectation that they’ll get something out of the experience – smiles and “thank yous” and a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, at the very least. While there’s a good chance you will get these things, it’s dangerous to expect them. You might not interact directly with the beneficiaries of your contributions. There might be days when you see only obstacles and no obvious way forward.

If you make peace with the fact that there’ll be times when your actions aren’t rewarded with thanks and feel-good vibes, you’ll be much better prepared to endure those moments.  


Establish Personal Boundaries

Too many volunteers make the mistake of giving too much of themselves, and before they know it, they’re running dry, completely incapable of giving any more. As a volunteer, you are the change agent. Transformation relies, in part, on you. So it’s important to prioritise your own well-being, too.

“Sometimes you have to ‘lose time to gain time’. It’s important to regularly step back and reflect – to take a break from the good work you’re doing. Prioritising relaxation might make it feel like you’re ‘losing time’ on a project, but in the long run, it’ll actually help you to “gain time” because you’ll be better positioned to give more in the future” – Jessica Kavonic

The bottom line is, if you’re not looking after yourself, you can’t look after anyone else. Establishing boundaries and taking time out to recover will help to ensure that you don’t lose yourself in the process of volunteering. Because if this happens, you’re really not helping anyone.  


Think you’re ready to start volunteering? Contact us and we’ll connect you with opportunities in your area that match your skills and passions.


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Dayle Kavonic

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