Combating Non-Profit Burnout

Today’s blog post is written by Lara Wildesen, Data Project Coordinator, PatronManager.

Many people know the signs of burnout: fatigue, loss of concentration, loss of passion, isolation, and sometimes even physical symptoms, such as headaches. Non-profit employees are particularly susceptible to experiencing burnout with limited staff, heavy workloads, tight budgets, and strict deadlines. For most non-profits, taking on more staff members can be a financial impossibility, so it’s vital that you actively take care of the employees you do have. A big part of this is making sure they have the proper support to avoid burnout, as well as having a system in place for when it does happen. Let’s look at prevention first:

  • Most employees do not take “real” time off. Encourage staff members to utilize their vacation days, and to not check their email or voicemail when they do! It’s also important to make sure you have others at your organization in place to cover their responsibilities in the short-term. This way, the employee can actively enjoy “real” time off and not come back to a doubled workload. 
  • Regular check-ins with staff via one-on-one and small group meetings can help gauge how employees are feeling about their workload. When this is done on a regular basis, and action is taken from items brought up in discussion, employees will feel more free to open up when they are beginning to feel overwhelmed.
  • Often the things that draw people to work for a non-profit are the organizational culture and a shared passion for a specific mission. Make it a priority to celebrate your staff’s efforts, milestones, and achievements — something as simple as a shout out in an organization-wide meeting can go a long way. Furthermore, make sure your staff is shown the larger impact their work is having, so they feel more connected to the mission that brought them to you in the first place. For example, share “thank you” cards from patrons, or even invite staff to attend a fundraising event as guests to mingle with donors in a non-work capacity. 

Ultimately, prevention is the best way to keep your organization a happy, healthy, and productive environment for all, but if you do start to see signs of employee burnout, here’s how you can offer support:

  • Help prioritize! If someone is feeling burned-out, one of the first places to look is their to-do list. Often, the employee who is feeling this way can’t see past the amount of work they have to do, but by walking through it with them, you can help sort through items that can either be delegated to someone else or put off. Simply relieving some of the pressure from a to-do list can help to bring feelings of stress and fatigue under control.
  • Sometimes all a person needs is a breath of fresh air. For example, a chance to learn a skill or train others might help re-energize an employee who is otherwise feeling burned-out. Offer opportunities for staff members to come into work with a new purpose and have something exciting to look forward to!
  • Utilize your volunteers. Volunteers are willingly giving you their time, passion, and commitment; take advantage of this and unload some of the more menial tasks from your full-time employees. For example, if you have a hefty call list for your end-of-year ask, let your volunteers take it on! You’ll obviously want to train any volunteers interacting with patrons and donors, but the time it will take for a single training session will ultimately save you and your employees hours at the office. 

While these items are by no means a comprehensive list, they are a starting place where conversations can begin! Encourage self-care, cultivate a positive, open, and “all-for-one” work culture, keep employees connected to your mission, and utilize the resources you do have to help lighten workloads. Your employees are your most precious resource, and helping them to avoid burnout will ultimately benefit your non-profit, and more importantly the patrons your organization serves.

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