Can You Avoid Nonprofit Burnout?

Sometimes there’s a story we tell collectively. When nonprofit colleagues were asked for their candid suggestions on how to avoid burnout, they got right to the core. Having worked in the trenches in some way with each of these pros reconfirmed for me that there’s nothing like the camaraderie and resourcefulness of those who work in this sector. We can’t do it alone, but we can certainly get through the demands and unexpected challenges of this work with dignity, recognition, and zeal.

10 Tricks to Avoid Burnout:

  1. Stay on mission. Remind yourself of the organization’s purpose and keep your eye on the prize. A long-time development colleague shares that her team shares “mission moments” at each monthly staff meetings. “With all the complaints, hustle and bustle of the day-to-day work,” she says, “it brings us back around to ‘why we do what we do’. You remember the reason you are here and picked this job.”
  1. Protect your private time. It’s inherent–you will work seven days a week sometimes. “You have to be realistic about what kind of work load you can handle, and actually make sure you take time off, away from the job, to focus on friends and family,” says a former arts staff member.
  1. Know how much you can do with a little. Don’t promise to get more done than can be accomplished if all you have is a paper clip, some gum, and a piece of string. A former nonprofit co-worker addressed setting limits: “We are all trying to do more work with fewer resources. Make sure you and your supervisors prioritize the work, and are realistic about what can really get done.”
  1. Zap time-wasters. Eliminate things that impinge on your valuable time. That might be people, meaningless reports, unscheduled meetings, and last minute requests or interruptions. Time wasted means more pressure to make up for hours lost.
  1. Take your time off. Vacation is even more important to those who often have limited budgets for travel and expensive, last-minute jaunts. You need to take the time due you to “recharge your batteries.”
  1. Plan. And plan some more. Having a roadmap sets realistic expectations and provides a platform for retooling priorities and workload. “Adequate time for strategic planning helps to put things into perspective and slows down the chaotic nonprofit pace,” notes another colleague.
  1. Thank your colleagues and graciously accept thanks. Help to create an environment where appreciation is offered visibly to support morale and each other. Sincere recognition of a job well done goes a long way.
  1. Sing more. Or draw, paint, knit…you gets the idea. Include creative outlets in your down time and even on work breaks. My own Tuesday night choir rehearsal is one of my much anticipated breaks. It’s time when I “officially” cannot be interrupted, but spend time doing something I love.
  1. Don’t get bored. Tedium kills creativity. One of my long-time colleagues, with whom I’ve worked on both administrative and creative projects, offers: “If you find yourself doing the same thing day after day, year after year, and you’re not challenged, it’s time to move on.”
  1. Know when to leave. Recognize burnout creep. Burnout can easily creep up on us, says a long-time nonprofit pro. “One day you realize you’re standing in the middle of the room screaming about something minor,” an arts advocate admits. Overall, keeping your nonprofit career on track and taking the time to refresh yourself and your goals are important steps to avoid burnout.

Courtesy of THIRD SECTOR TODAY, author Yvonne Hudson, edited for length.

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