burn + out

Having spent the better part of two decades as a nonprofit leader, I’ve seen my fair share of nonprofit executive burnout. But wait! What’s that you say, burnout in the compassion profession? You bet.

Many nonprofit leaders, myself included, went into the “passion and people over profit” profession because we are compassionate, heart-driven do-gooders. We fight the good fight, we elevate our communities with a commitment to creating a world-changing partnership between the private and public sectors. And sometimes this devotion comes at a high price.

No leader works harder for fewer (material) rewards than nonprofit leaders. Over time however, passion can lead to physical or emotional exhaustion, a sense of ineffectiveness against the relentless tide of need, and perhaps even cynicism because there’s never enough time, money, or real and lasting change.

It’s not all bad news, though. Yes, nonprofit leadership can be rewarding in ways that defy logic. And at the end of the day, you can sleep well knowing that you did your best to improve the human, eco, or existential condition. 

If you feel burnout creeping in, or observe it in staff or colleagues, here are five ways to elevate habits of self-care:

  1. Move your body. This is so important. Not only does exercise –even a lunchtime walk—give you a good cardio workout and blow out the cobwebs, best yet: it gets you out of your head and into your body.
  2. Talk about it. Having a coach or a trusted friend you can share your thoughts with helps beat pessimism and isolation. A coach can offer impartial feedback and challenge habits that may otherwise reinforce a pattern of gloom.
  3. Eat well. It’s easy to binge on sugary, fat-laden, or low-nutrition foods when we feel blue. But that’s like pouring can of soda into the tank of a Ferrari. Your brain works better on healthy food, so fuel yourself with the best ingredients possible.
  4. Get rest. Lack of adequate sleep can rob you of resilience, emotional agility, and the intellectual capacity to solve problems effectively. Eight hours is the minimum mattress time we should clock each night to assure top performance.
  5. Practice saying NO. This is my personal favorite. Do-gooders have a tough time saying NO. But nothing gets you what you really want faster than creating and protecting healthy boundaries. A 10-hour day? No, thank you. Work this weekend? Sorry, I wish I could, but I made plans. Give a top donor your home number so they can reach you night or day? Ooh, we have a policy in our house to make family time a priority. I hope you understand how important family time is. Fact: your donor won’t abandon you, she will respect you.

Maintaining a healthy mind and body is essential to doing our best work. And when our work means taking care of the public and social needs of our community, there is no higher calling. And BTW: the noble cause you loyally serve totally deserves your A-game.

Cynthia Gregory is a certified life coach and author. To book a free discovery session with her to see if coaching can ignite your nonprofit passion again, write to coachcynthia.gregory@gmail.com or visit cgregorycreativity.com

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