How *Not* to Burnout in your Nonprofit Work

How *Not* to Burnout in your Nonprofit Work

Oh yes, the struggle is real. We give our all in the name of making a difference. Sounds noble, eh? But, when is enough enough

In the nonprofit sector it is so easy to keep pushing ourselves because there is no outright definition of success. While we strive to make an impact, there is no perfect equation that will solve the problems of the world. Somewhere, somehow, there will always be another individual, community, or environment to support. 

What does this do to your average nonprofit professional? It puts us in a vicious cycle of always wanting to do more. Whether that comes from sheer passion of helping others, or a sense of guilt for making sure we do our part, it is a quick road to burn out. 

I’ve personally struggled in this battle for years, telling myself: 

  • If I work just a little harder, will I make that much more of a difference. 
  • Even if I work extra hours, I don’t deserve to get paid more because these folks need this support more than I need to build a nest egg. 
  • It is my duty to make sure this community gets the help they need. 

Thought processes such as these are a trap. It is no news that burnout is a legitimate challenge facing the nonprofit field. In my nonprofit experience working in Ecuador, an alarming 75% of nonprofits closed within a three-year period. While some of this drop off can be attributed to management and funding challenges, many nonprofits also experienced abandoned positions of leadership and high turnover rates. 

While the U.S. nonprofit culture does not reach such extreme measures, the turnover rates are astonishing standing at 19% in 2015. Why do nonprofit professionals leave their positions? They are overworked, underpaid, exposed to trauma, and have lack of mobility in the organization, just to name a few. 

Whether you’re an organization or an individual reading this, these burnout prevention tips can come in handy. The organization needs to take care of its staff to ensure its success, and employees need to take care of themselves for their own well-being! 

Let’s take a look at what we can do to prevent a crash and burn scenario: 

Ask yourself: What is draining my energy? 

First things first, is the problem at work itself, or a more broad work-life balance? If the issues are in the office, let’s try to identify them. Are you working too many hours? Is secondhand trauma getting you down? Is the office culture or poor communication taking it out of you?

Are you doing what’s important, or what is seemingly urgent? 

When passion prevails, it’s easy to say that everything needs to be done and resolved now. Oftentimes, however, these urgent tasks pull us away from our mission and what really needs to get done. It can help to make a quadrant chart on Friday afternoon or Monday morning and evaluate your week in terms of what is or is not important, and what is or is not urgent. If anything falls into “not important” and “not urgent” find a way to take it off your plate

Say No

The whole “saying no” thing is applicable for fields across the board, but in the nonprofit sector it comes along with a particular sense of guilt. We assume others will perceive our saying no as an unwillingness to support the cause. Let’s put a stop to that right there. It is perfectly alright to say “I’d love to help, but I can’t take on any more responsibilities at this time.” Doubting what to say yes or no to? Take a look at your important/urgent chart. Are the favors coming from outside your office? Take a look at your personal mission and what you really want to dedicate your time to. It is more than ok to say no. 

Reach out to your coworkers

If you’re at a near bursting point, it’s likely that your coworkers are feeling the same way. Developing healthy habits within the office is an excellent way to hold each other accountable for being overworked. I used to work in a nonprofit that had a “sunshine club” that would ensure employees where acknowledged and honored for a job well-done. Whether that meant writing personalized notes to coworkers or sending special treats on birthdays or holidays, it was an amazing way to bring positive energy to a trauma-filled field. You can also encourage healthy habits, such as taking short walks together to get fresh air, chipping in to upgrade a coffee/tea bar (hard work can’t get done with mediocre coffee), or taking turns to bring in some home cooked food to share. 

What burnout prevention tips have worked at your nonprofit? We’d love to know! If you’re having legal or development-based doubts in your nonprofit, we’d love to help. Contact us today.