Letter to the Editor - Wednesday, May 7: Volunteer burnout

WHILE I fully support the great Tidy Towns program I am not sure who will be able to do the actual "work".

This has long been a niggling issue with me and your article made me finally put finger to keyboard.

We are already asking way too much of our local volunteers.

This is an increasing (exponential) trend where more is being asked of volunteers in the day-to-day running of our communities, facilities and services.

We all know why. The councils and governments don't have enough money to maintain our existing infrastructure and services, so the options are (a) sell them off or (b) get them to be done/run by volunteers.

We now have RFS and SES attending first on the scene at major accidents. We have teams of volunteers running weed programs on public land, pest animal programs, providing first aid at events, aged care, mental health, youth programs and more and more and more. Where does it stop?

A few years ago I had a young lad in class who looked very distressed. I asked him after class what was wrong.

He had attended, as an emergency volunteer, the suicide of a boy his own age and assisted at the scene. I asked if he was given counselling (as I know employees would be required to attend counselling after such an incident). He had been given a phone number but said he probably wouldn't call.

The other part of this issue is there are only so many people willing and able to volunteer. And it will be the same people we turn to, asking them to rally the troops (you know who your local champion is).

This poor person will add this to the long list of community volunteer "jobs" they feel they must do because it's a good cause.

Yes, we know there are many people out there who could volunteer more or at least some hours to community projects but in reality it will fall back onto the shoulders of the same people. We might give them a certificate once a year but how many of these wonderful people end up suffering volunteer burnout?

Another time my business partner and I put in an application for funding to do an environmental education e-book.

The funding body said they loved the idea but it would be even more favourable if we could build in a volunteer component.

I withdrew our application as I personally already donate vast hours of my time to volunteer conservation work and I know 20 people who would volunteer on the project "for me" but it would be the same people, adding more to their load.

I don't know the answer.

Option (c) is ensuring our councils and government departments are running things as efficiently as possible and funds are prioritised and channelled into the most beneficial projects - but who decides that?

I just wanted to raise the issue and point out that every time we have a "great idea" like this and call for a rally of community spirit, be aware that somewhere there is a very tired volunteer reading the paper over a well-earned cup of tea, sighing and going, "Oh well, I guess someone needs to do it."

Sharon Lehman,

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