Before I worked in fundraising and development consulting, I began my career in the nonprofit sector as a social worker. In my training we talked extensively about burnout and self-care–both essential concepts for social workers to understand. When I began working on the administrative side of organizations as a fundraiser I found that discussion of these concepts was often absent or focused on the financial costs of burnout with little discussion of how to proactively prevent it. While program staff and those who are interacting with our organizations’ clients on a day-to-day basis do have a pressing need for healthy self-care practices, that doesn’t mean there’s not a need for nonprofit leaders and administrative professionals to develop self-care strategies too.
Due to the nature of our work, the perpetual understaffing and “do more with less” mentality of many organizations, poor wages and benefits, and the fact that we care deeply about our organizations’ missions, all nonprofit employees are susceptible to burnout.
I discussed this post with some colleagues who have been in nonprofits for many years and here are some of our road-tested methods of self-care:
- Create a barrier between work and home. I learned this one from a social work professor when I was interning at a domestic violence shelter and struggling to do my homework after returning home from my internship. Allow yourself time to process whatever happened at work–maybe you give yourself the entire drive home to think about your day, or you predetermine that you process your workday’s events until you pass a certain landmark on your way home. But then, once you get home or pass the landmark, switch to “off-work” time. Make rules for yourself to process whatever you need to during your designated time, then try to switch to personal time. Start thinking about your dinner plans, or read a book, or do whatever it is you need to do in your personal life. Reflecting on your day is a good thing to do, but set rules to keep work troubles from coloring your time outside of the office.
- Connect with colleagues. Constructive sharing can be powerful and make us feel less isolated in our work. Try to avoid getting together to just complain, and focus on positivity when you can. For instance, find a colleague to tell them that you noticed how hard they worked on something and how you imagine it may have been stressful putting all those hours in to make it come together in time, but you noticed, and you’re grateful for the hard work they’re doing to make the organization stronger. Empathizing with colleagues over their hard work can make them feel better, and it will help you too as you connect on a personal level and spread positivity around the office.
- Step away. Over and over I’ve heard from my colleagues that it’s hard to take vacations, or they feel guilty about time off, or there’s “never a good time.” Look, I get it–I’ve been this person…repeatedly–but most nonprofits are understaffed. Most nonprofit professionals are overworked and have an insurmountable task list. (And this is a separate issue.) But the reality is that you will do yourself and your organization a service if you take time off to decompress and do something you enjoy. You will likely come back with a clearer head, more motivated in your work, and as a better manager or colleague. And when I say “step away,” I really mean it. Do not check your email on vacation–and avoid checking it outside working hours. When you allow work stress to start infiltrating your leisure time it negates the benefits of a vacation. Let everyone know in advance that you will not be checking emails. Then put up an out of office with the contact info for a colleague who can help in your absence, provide that colleague with your emergency contact info if you must, and enjoy your time off. And finally, for goodness’ sake, don’t feel guilty for using your hard earned vacation days. It’s for the good of everyone, including your organization.
- Spend time doing things you enjoy. Find something you love and spend some of your time outside of work feeding that passion. Maybe it’s running, painting, playing an instrument, playing in a sports league, cooking, or reading. Spend time doing whatever it is that makes you feel good.
What are some ways that you practice self-care in your daily life?
Ellen Eoff, Sky(lark) Strategies