Fundraising is hard work.
The emotional toll, the daily tasks, the end-game pressure of failure – all of it can sap your energy in a heartbeat.
Lately I’ve been having discussions with a number of my colleagues in the fundraising, activism and wellness worlds where we share how we circumvent the inevitable burnout from the work that we do. The conversations have naturally become brainstorming sessions to explore methods that we could incorporate into our daily lives.
I’d like to share those notes with you.
But before we get into all that, I want to talk about the elephant in the room. The fact that nonprofit and community benefit organizations are notorious for their lack of self-care in the workplace.
To be honest, when I came from a very much for-profit working environment, I was shocked at just how little of a priority it was to celebrate self-care in the nonprofit world. In fact, it was almost like a badge of merit to always have your nose to the grindstone, as if your level of stress was a marker of your dedication to the mission.
As a result, what I unfortunately witnessed were wonderful, incredibly capable and well-intentioned people who were utterly burned out.
Here’s the thing: Yes, the mission is important. But if you are sick as hell and falling apart, you are not doing that mission any favors.
Self-care is critical to my personal and professional lifestyle. Straight up, I am an unashamed evangelist for self-care and wellness in the workplace.
Now, onto the some ideas we can implement. This is a long list! And some of it may seem more aspirational than realistic. Play with what resonates for you and leave the rest.
In any case, I encourage you to always care for yourself. And I especially invite you to share your ideas in the comments below. We are all in this together!
Connect with your constituents.
Spending time with the people whose lives are beautifully impacted by your work can recharge your emotional batteries for another day.
Unplug during lunch.
How often do we eat at our computer screens? Try unplugging from all devices during this mid-day meal and see if that makes for a more fruitful afternoon. It is even better if you can get outside.
Take a walk.
An afternoon stroll outside is positively regenerative for the mind and spirit.
Switch up your location.
There is a teaching from the Jewish Talmud: “Change your place, change your luck.” On a practical level, simply taking a day out of the office to work in a new environment can do wonders.
Take breaks. In every way. All the time.
From multi-day retreats to five minute pauses, downtime is absolutely necessary to maintaining a thriving mindset.
Create space for reflection.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from colleagues is that they don’t feel like they have enough time for reflection. They are in constant go-mode. The result is that they feel like they are not doing things as well as they could because they haven’t reflected thoughtfully on what is working and what could be improved.
Give yourself breathing room.
Try separating yourself and your self worth from the significance and success of the mission. This can be difficult to do, particularly when your mission feels like it is the most important thing in the world, but it can bring you back down to earth when challenges seem insurmountable.
This is another one that can be difficult to do. It can hurt to turn people down or refuse a project, particularly if that project will further your mission. But remember that saying no to some things leaves that much more room for you to do what you do really well. Think quality over quantity.
Once thought to be the catch-all for getting things done, researchers are now seeing where multi-tasking actually diminishes productivity in substantial ways. Between having too much on your plate and trying to do it all at once, burnout is a certain outcome.
Tackle problems head on.
A dysfunctional system can debilitate good work. Assess and identify the cause of the problem. Then, rather than sweeping it under the rug, fix it.
Comrades and compañeras.
Connect, commiserate and conspire with people in your line of work, from thought leaders you admire to partners and colleagues. Take it a step further and bring together a mastermind group for support and inspiration.
Foster a safe space for difficult discussions.
Conflict can drain anyone. It is even worse when there doesn’t seem to be a safe space for conversation and resolution.
Researchers have found that simply having plants in the office increases the quality of life, productivity and happiness.
Nobody lasts long when they are not appreciated. And rightfully so. A practice of gratitude, affirmation and appreciation is a must-have in the workplace.
Let’s say this out loud, shall we? Not paying people what they are worth will not only lead to burned out, irritable team, but it will also eventually lead to the high cost of turnover.
Do a range of tasks.
Anyone who has ever been tasked with data entry knows that boredom is a total drag. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
Along with boredom, the lack of growth and upward mobility is a complete buzzkill. As human beings, we are designed to grow and evolve. If burnout is rampant, check to see whether you really feel stagnant or stunted.
Find a creative outlet.
Often we become trapped in our bubble. This can be so true with fundraising where the bottom line often takes precedence over artistic exploration. A creative outlet nurtures your power of expression.
Hands down, the resounding nourishment of nature can replenish your spirit in a way that no other hack can. Spend time in nature.
Go to sleep.
Arianna wrote a book about it. Scientists have known it for decades. Sleep deprivation has even been used as an instrument of torture. Google “sleep” and nearly a billion results come back in less than a second. If you are experiencing burnout, try getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Michael Pollan said it best. However, like sleep, a balanced diet is another thing that should be obvious but is usually the last thing on the priority list when you are under stress. Make sure you are eating well.
Move your body.
Yes, this too. Sleep, nourishment and movement. The magical triad that you need at a bare minimum to truly avoid burnout. Get off your butt (sitting is the new smoking, after all) and move your body. Dance breaks may be optional but are always effective.
Prioritize loved ones.
Our loved ones bring us joy and ground us in what really matters. Unfortunately, family is not always a priority in the typical workplace culture. After all, women are still made to feel like they must choose between having a career or having children. Step back from the never ending task list and connect with the people you love most.
Laughter is the best medicine.
Humor can be a touchstone when everything else has gone to hell in a handbasket. It can release stress, lower blood pressure and bring everyone together in a shared joke.
Go on a media fast.
I don’t know about you but when I am indulging in a twenty-four hour news cycle of all that is going wrong in the world, I feel utterly depleted and defeated. Increase the level of positivity in your surroundings by limiting bad news.
Sometimes, what feels like burnout and overwhelm is actually just an indication that you are doing work that isn’t what you were meant to do. Gut check: Are you? Do you love the work that you do? Does it light you up?
Write a manifesto.
Writing your own, personal manifesto can be a great way see what really matters in your life. Check whether there are there things that are causing you pain. If they are not on your manifesto, let them go.
Delegating tasks that drain you can free up time for work that lights you up. What can you take off your list now
Ask for help.
So often we struggle to tackle everything on our own. And so often, it isn’t necessary.
Meditation is really having a moment these days. Try jumping on the bandwagon.
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