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How to Avoid Nonprofit Burnout At The End Of The Year

10 min read
August 13, 2021
Allison Smith headshot
Allison Smith
Content Marketing Coordinator, Neon One
stressed woman experiencing nonprofit burnout

A 2015 study from Harvard and Stanford University business schools found that job-related health problems contribute to about 120,000 deaths and result in nearly $190 billion in health care costs annually.

“There is a reluctance on the part of many workplaces to have open discussions about mental health on par with other physical health issues,” says Wendy Brennan, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City. “We don’t generally recommend that anyone disclose in the workplace. There’s still a huge stigma attached.”

Due to fear of losing their jobs or being overlooked for promotions, many employees with mental health issues suffer silently in the workplace. However, there are steps employers can take to create healthy environments that promote well-being physically and psychologically.

In the nonprofit sector, it may seem especially difficult to create the ideal healthy working environment. 

One of the biggest sources that cause nonprofit burnout is end-of-year fundraising. Employees are under a larger strain with added responsibilities and pressure to reach fundraising goals.

Planning and executing the best year-end campaign possible is crucial to you and your constituents. However, when it comes at the expense of your mental and physical health, it’s time to slow down and reassess. And this isn’t just us being nice. Data proved it.

Research has shown that productivity takes a sharp decline after working more than 50 hours per week

Making these long hours a part of your routine can also contribute to absenteeism and, even worse, nonprofit burnout.

Nonprofit burnout: productivity sharply declines after working more than 50 hours a week. One study finds that those who work 70 hours in a week get no more done than thise who work 55 hours in a week
Nonprofit burnout: productivity sharply declines after working more than 50 hours a week. One study finds that those who work 70 hours in a week get no more done than thise who work 55 hours in a week

What is Nonprofit Burnout?

Nonprofit burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and exhaustion brought on by many things, including work-life imbalance. If left unchecked, it can cause excessive stress, anxiety, depression, and even heart disease, among other serious consequences.

Unfortunately, if you are not the Executive Director of your nonprofit, what you’re expected to do is not entirely up to you. However, sometimes burnout issues are self-inflicted.  

Ideally, it would be on senior leadership to make sure their employees’ goals and workload expectations are fair and reasonable. Hopefully, you work in an environment that values employee input on creating and maintaining a healthy and suitable work environment during times of stress.

Whether your leadership is receptive to change or not, we’ve provided a list of tips below that individual nonprofit employees can use to address common concerns and stressors that come up during this time.

The Problem: Not Enough Hours in a Day

You’re running your year-end campaign, maintaining day-to-day operations, and sending out more appeals than you can count. You probably feel like the 24 hours in a day just aren’t cutting it.

There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re living in a never-ending race against the clock. 

With some effective time-management strategies and self-care techniques, you can give yourself a breather and still find time to get everything done.

Solution #1: Avoid Nonprofit Burnout by Prioritizing Your Time

This one goes beyond making an organized to-do list. A few proven time-management techniques can help you get a better view of your priorities and schedule your time accordingly.

A resource that may help you with this is Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Matrix. This simple chart enables you to define your priorities with the following labels: Important and Urgent, Important but Not Urgent, Not Important but Urgent and Not Important, and Not Urgent.

Using this tool to sort your priorities will allow you to work effectively and efficiently.

 Once you have all your tasks in order, you can better organize your day and delegate some less essential tasks.

For a more comprehensive breakdown of the Eisenhower Matrix, click here.

Solution #2: Treat Your Breaks As Appointments With Yourself

Skipping your lunch to get some extra work in may seem like a smart move, but over time, it can hurt your productivity and ability to work long-term

Taking breaks isn’t just crucial for your emotional well-being; it’s important for your brain.

If you’re a chronic lunch-skipper, try blocking off 30 minutes to an hour in your schedule, and label it as a meeting with yourself. Putting some personal time on your work calendar can help you give your brain a rest.

The important thing is to treat it the same way you would a meeting with a team member or constituent. You wouldn’t miss skip out on them, so don’t skip out on yourself! 

Solution #3: Use Automations to Avoid Nonprofit Burnout Long-Term

Remember the Eisenhower Matrix we talked about earlier? Take another look at your personal chart. Do you see a lot of repetitive, manual tasks under any of the sections? That means you could probably use some automation in your life.

If you don’t currently use any kind of constituent management tool, take some time to consider how your organization might benefit from using one overall. 

How much time do you spend addressing all of your appeals and sending follow-up messages? How are you keeping your contact list up-to-date? 

If it seems like these kinds of tasks are taking up too much of your time, you may want to consider investing in a comprehensive, robust CRM.

For those already using a CRM, and these tasks are still taking up valuable space in your schedule, it’s time to reevaluate the value that software is bringing to your organization. If it doesn’t seem worth its cost, it may be time to make a switch!

The Most Important Questions to Ask When Choosing A New Donor Database

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The Problem: You Feel You Owe All Your Time to Your Constituents

Nonprofit professionals have some pretty unique stressors that come with their jobs, partly because, well, people’s lives are on the line. It can sometimes feel selfish or unnecessary to take some time to yourself.

Here’s the thing: if your stress level is impeding your ability to perform well within your organization, then no one is benefitting from your time spent. Not yourself or your constituents. 

You need to take care of yourself to perform well within your organization.

Solution #1: Delegate What You Can

Delegation is a highly underutilized tool simply because most people are too afraid to ask for help. If your workload has gotten to be too much, you shouldn’t feel bad about reaching out to a colleague for some assistance.

The trick is to be respectful of the other person’s time. 

Before delegating a task to somebody else, you should always ask what their schedule and time allowance are like and be specific. Just because somebody doesn’t have an hour to spare today doesn’t mean they won’t be able to tomorrow.

Once you’ve found someone to take over the task, be sure to communicate that transfer to any other colleagues that may be involved in the project. 

Keeping everyone on the same page is vital to the success of any campaign, year-end or not.

Also (and this may go without saying), be sure to express your appreciation for the team member that lent you a hand! Everyone likes to feel appreciated.

Solution #2: Call in Some Extra Help

The holiday season is the perfect time to call in some extra volunteers. 

Studies show that charitable activity spikes during the last three months of the year. Use that to your advantage and send out an appeal for some extra hands.

If you’re using a CRM, you can use the volunteer module to reach out to all of your previous volunteers to let them know that you could use some extra help over the holiday season. 

Remember to thank them for their previous involvement with your organization and let them know what kind of impact they can make by signing up again.

If you’d like to go the less formal route, tap into your personal network and ask your colleagues to do the same. You would be surprised by what a simple Facebook post or text message can achieve.

Solution #3: Set Realistic Goals for Yourself

You know yourself better than anyone else, so you probably have a good handle on the amount of work you can manage. Use that knowledge to guide how much work you take on.

For example, if someone asks you to make a flyer for an upcoming event, but you know you have five separate appeals to write, two meetings to attend, and a program meeting at night, you’re probably not doing anyone much good by saying, yes.

It can be hard to set those kinds of boundaries with colleagues, but it’s sometimes necessary. Remember: taking on more than you can handle isn’t the same as being a team player; It’s setting yourself up for failure.

By setting realistic goals for yourself and advocating for your own limitations, you can ensure that you can follow through on all your work-related promises and prevent some unneeded stress and burnout.

The Problem: You Bit Off More Than You Can Chew

There’s nothing more stressful than over-shooting your campaign goal. 

Maybe your team got a little over-ambitious during the planning stages, or maybe you didn’t have the right data to make informed decisions early on. Either way, scrambling to hit an almost impossible mark is not fun for anyone.

Just know that failure is never inevitable. Even if your campaign is in full swing, there are still steps you can take to reorient your team and create a plan that works for everyone.

Solution #1: Take Time to Reassess

You may feel bound to your original goal, but in reality, that’s not usually the case. If you feel like there’s just no way your team will be able to reach a designated success metric, you should consider changing course.

Set a meeting with your team to go over the roadblocks you are currently facing. Separate what is impossible from what’s just a little tricky. The key is to focus on what you can accomplish with the time you have left. 

And who knows – you may even exceed your new goals! 

Studies show that people perform best when their objectives are challenging but ultimately achievable.

Solution #2: Communicate Roadblocks to Your Stakeholders

We understand that giving less than desirable news can be particularly anxiety-inducing. Still, in order to prevent any unmet expectations, you need to communicate goal changes to your various stakeholders.

To make sure the process goes smoothly, pay close attention to how you frame it. 

Keeping everybody on the same page is important to maintaining harmony within your nonprofit. Don’t just tell them you’ll be unable to meet your original goal. Explain the specific hurdles you faced with your original goal and how your new goal will benefit your constituents.

Solution #3: Avoid Future Nonprofit Burnout and Set Yourself Up For Future Successes

Failure is just a learning opportunity that hasn’t lost its sting yet. Instead of kicking yourself for not reaching your original goal, use what you learned from the experience to guide your future strategy.

Once your year-end campaign has wrapped up, set a meeting and audit what was done well and what could be improved on. 

Once you identify just where things went south, you can brainstorm ways to avoid those pitfalls in the future.

We Hope This Helps You Beat Stress, Maintain Sanity, And Avoid Nonprofit Burnout Throughout The End Of The Year.

The holiday season may be stressful, but it will all be worth it when you see how big an impact your organization had on your constituents. 

Hopefully, you can make it through every upcoming holiday season without experiencing nonprofit burnout. We can’t wait to see all the fantastic work you do!

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