Advice on how to back out of volunteer work?

I am seeking advice on how to back out of some long-term volunteer work, but do so gracefully as I will eventually seek an recommendation from this work. I have been volunteering with a health care non-profit abroad for nearly 15 years. When I started, it took little of my time, but as my skills, knowledge, and connections grew, my involvement deepened. I took on more and more responsibility. Now, I help run two of their free clinics. I am away sometimes for weeks at a time. The non-profit is very dependent on me to do things for them mostly because I do all the nitty-gritty work that regular volunteers won’t do. All this volunteering may look great on a resume or application. However, doing so takes away significant time from studying and taking courses, as I cannot take an in-person classes. I have put off taking lots of courses and other projects because of this work.

Given my deep involvement, I, obviously want to get a letter of recommendation from this group, but I also want to back out so I can study for the MCAT and finish repairing my GPA (damaged by so much volunteer work). In particular, I don’t want to offend the “boss lady” who would be writing the recommendation. I “work” directly for her, however. Can anyone suggest ways to tacitly, politely, back out of a position without offending the higher ups, so I can later ask them for a recommendation?

If I was in your shoes, I’d share a version of what you’ve said here with the higher ups. Tell them you need to scale back (or stop) your volunteering commitment so you can fully prepare for the MCAT. Given that it’s in health care, I’m sure they understand the importance.

Add that you’ve loved working there, maybe throw a line in about what it’s meant to you and how it’s inspired you to pursue med school. And don’t just up and leave, allow for some transition time and offer to brief whoever fills your shoes. If you think you might be able to come back in the future in some capacity, say so. Thank them for giving you a meaningful experience, and don’t mention that volunteering for them damaged your GPA or held you back in any way.

You’re a volunteer, they don’t expect you to stay forever. If they press you (hopefully they wouldn’t) just say you can’t make your time commitment work right now with your class schedule.

When someone writes back to you, I would broach the LOR then. I’d give a time frame in that email. Ask them if they’re willing and mention that you’ll get back in touch closer to when you’re gathering letters, for example in October or whenever.

If you’re going to take more than a year to apply, then check in every couple of months with how the organization/projects are doing.

Thanks for your advice. Unfortunately, it looks like my situation is a bit trickier than what it appears. Running a free clinic abroad requires more than just seeing patients, there is a lot of background work to keep the clinic running that most volunteers never see nor do. And few people seem to want to take that on as a volunteer.

Thus, as far as a replacement for myself, there is none. No one other than the boss lady herself is willing to do the work that I do. That is why she and the board of directors depend so much on me to do things for the organization. As the “right hand” person of the clinic director, our organization’s board of director are apparently expecting me to take over for her when she “retires”.

If I leave, the smaller of the two free clinics that I run will probably have to close. Of course, I will let the organization know ahead of time and give them plenty of notice of my departure, but I know it will be a great disappoiontment to them. And, I don’t wnat that disappointment to negatively impact their LOR given all that I have done.