3 Fundraiser Self-Care Check-Ins to Avoid Burnout
A few months ago, I found myself sitting on the floor of my office in tears. I felt depleted, overwhelmed, and had been running into technical difficulties that were blocking progress on important projects. I let the tears flow, knowing that my emotions were information for me and needed to be expressed.
What I learned is that I had a whole story going in my head about my inability to manage parts of my life including anything technical. As a result, I had been avoiding doing anything about these challenges. I realized my story and my avoidance were creating more stress and keeping me stuck. Those tears of frustration were my check engine light coming on.
If you find your check engine light on these days, you are not alone. Burnout, which is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, negativity, increased mental distance and reduced confidence in your work, is a real and persistent challenge for many of us.
A Givebutter poll found that 95% of nonprofit professionals have either experienced burnout themselves or have seen it impact a key staff member in the past three years alone. And studies show that women, who make up 77 to 82% of the nonprofit sector, are experiencing higher levels of burnout than men. The Harris Poll specifically found in 2019 that 51% of all respondents said they plan to leave their current job within two years and 30% said they plan to leave fundraising altogether.
I realized I needed to take action. I created a list of all the technical systems I use, and which ones were hindering me. I called a local IT person who came to my house the next day, fixed the systems issues and taught me how to use them more effectively.
Taking control in this one small area of my life re-energized me. It was an act of self-care. It’s impossible to get up every day, work nine hours non-stop, be good at everything, manage your home life, and always be effective, positive and successful. The practice of self-care isn’t a result of you not being able to hack it or that something is wrong with you. Self-care is an act of strength, power and wisdom.
As you move into the new year, I encourage you to check in on some key areas in your life you may need to nurture. These check-ins are not comprehensive, but they are designed to help you ask the necessary questions to get unstuck, avoid burnout and courageously resist.
1. Check In on Your Story
Are you holding on to a story that is getting in your way? We tend to think of ego as someone who thinks they are better than everyone else, but ego is also present when you tell yourself you are not good enough, a victim and have no power. Your ego attaches to certain roles, ideas and stories, and then works to keep you in those stories as an affirmation of its reality.
An example would be believing that if you say “yes” to more work, stay busy and always feel overwhelmed, that you have more value. Ego also plays a part when you see yourself only as a victim of a terrible work situation where it’s all your boss’ fault. Yes, there are terrible bosses who pile on work and are unreasonable, but there are many situations where checking your story gives you insight into your contribution to your situation. If you are not aware of your story, it can be much more difficult to take action and change.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What beliefs or stories do I have about why I am burned out?
- How do they contribute to or hinder me finding a different way to function?
- What story do I want to replace it with?
2. Check In on Your Energy
Imagine you roll out of bed and the first thing you do is answer emails. You immediately get overwhelmed, so you turn to social media. You then start your routine of getting kids up and off to school. You don’t have time to eat breakfast, so you grab a cup of coffee on your way into work.
Now, compare that to waking up 15 to 30 minutes earlier to meditate, journal and exercise. Then you get your kids up and have a healthy breakfast with them before taking them to school.
How different will your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual states and energy be in these two scenarios?
Thinking you can get more done and not feel overwhelmed if you push yourself every hour all day, don’t take breaks and don’t eat regular, healthy meals is an illusion. You are not a machine but a human. It’s actually part of our physiology that we need a break every 90 to 120 minutes. Our natural rhythms include cycles of high energy states and then our body craves a time of recovery. Most of us also have our lowest energy state between 2 and 4 p.m. Taking short breaks that are rejuvenating — where you don’t check social media — can recharge your energy battery.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- How are you treating yourself like a machine?
- What small steps can take to build more energy into your life physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually? (A great resource that can help with this is “The Power of Full Engagement.”)
3. Check In with Your Boss
This is a great time of year to take a look at your workload, roles and responsibilities. You might think that if you drop hints and point out to your boss that you are overwhelmed, they should then fix it. This is a false reality. Nonprofit leaders are burning out at high rates, with 60% reporting they feel “used up” at the end of each workday. Put another way, your boss is probably just as burnt out and overwhelmed as you are.
Most likely your boss has no idea how much you are actually doing every week, the hours you are putting in and how that impacts the bottom line. And the key here is to start the conversation to create more awareness and understanding.
Start by opening up a document or spreadsheet and complete a workload snapshot exercise and job description review.
- Work categories. Create a list of all the categories of work that are requiring your time (major gifts caseload, annual giving, events, board meetings, volunteers, team meetings, committees, etc.)
- Tasks and time spent. Under each category, list all of the tasks required and an estimate of how much time each task takes each month.
- Total time. Add up the task times and put a total next to each main category.
- Return on investment. Highlight which categories or tasks that have the best ROI for your nonprofit.
- Delegation. Highlight categories or tasks that could be delegated or left undone for now.
Job Description Review
- Comparison. Dust off your job description and compare it to your present reality.
- Time allocation. Identify what percent of time you are able to focus on your actual responsibilities and how that impacts your success. For example, if you’re a major gift officer who is supposed to raise $1 million from your caseload but are only working on major gifts 40% of your time, then you will likely not be able to hit that goal.
Set up your meeting with your boss with a common goal of bringing the most value to your organization. Share what you have outlined about what you’re presently doing and the solutions on which you want to get feedback. Then discuss the snapshot and brainstorm solutions together. Be intentional about setting clear deadlines and follow-up steps to ensure this process stays on track.
With these three check-ins, you’ll put yourself in a position to create better balance in your life and have an enhanced strategy for how to approach your year. I hope you’ll choose at least one check-in to do this month to reset and set yourself up for a healthy new year.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Karen Kendrick is the senior director of learning at Veritus Group. She has a master’s degree in education and counseling and more than 28 years’ experience in nonprofit fundraising — both in the education market and for social service agencies.
Karen has served as program director and executive director of a nonprofit, giving her both programmatic and administrative experience. She has created strong comprehensive fundraising programs from the ground up and served as a director of development and major gift officer.