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A Recovery Plan for Fundraisers Facing Burnout

Do any of these describe you?

  • You spend more the 50 percent of your therapy session talking about fundraising.
  • Your efforts to get board members to help raise money are so unpleasant, you find yourself daydreaming of the good old days when you were on the front lines in the Vietnam War.
  • You have gained more than 30 pounds, tripled your alcohol consumption, or taken up smoking over the age of 40.
  • You and a co-worker are thinking of leaving together. The only thing you haven’t decided is who will be Thelma and who will be Louise.

If any of these sound familiar, you may be suffering from burnout.

It surprises some people that burnout occurs in fundraisers. After all, they are not making the big bucks, and they are on the side of the angels. But burnout is real, and it affects the mental and physical health of people who raise money just like anybody else.

Even if you’re burned out, you can recover your edge. Here’s how:

Chill out and take a break. This is easier said than done when you feel that if you don’t get the work done, no one will. For some people, a weekend with no text messages, meetings, or e-mails will give you the perspective to approach your work with more energy. For others, you might have to walk away for a longer time. If the organization falls to pieces without you, perhaps it is time to walk away for good. During this down time, write the three things that are most important in your life other than this commitment. If these things are being seriously compromised, think about whether its time to move on.

Implement healthy habits. When you are holed up for hours with Cheetos and a flickering computer screen trying to respond to complex, nonsensical, or infuriating e-mails, your blood pressure, attitude, and effectiveness are compromised. Take a walk, eat healthier food, cut down on the caffeine, and go to bed earlier.  These are all simple concepts but not easy to do consistently. You might want to enlist a friend or relative to support you.

Set boundaries. Fundraising is a team sport. You don’t have to go it alone. If you are, it is time to recruit someone to work with you. Find a volunteer who has different strengths than you have. Ask for a new role in the organization that fits your time and skill constraints. Or ultimately, find another job that fits your abilities, life, and work style, and priorities.

I will never forget working with a nonprofit leader who was a major burn-out case. I told him, “Working at a nonprofit is the dream of many corporate folks. Ideally, you should feel like you are accomplishing something, enjoy the people you are working with, grow intellectually and emotionally and have fun.”

He said, “This is less fun than war time in Vietnam.”

Then he spent three months not working more than 55 hours a week, got a job at another organization that was better staffed, and called me. “Son of a gun,” he said. “This is fun. And I’m getting something done”

You don’t have to give up nonprofit work. If the strategies outlined above don’t work, you can divorce your current nonprofit and find joy with another!

Have you ever felt burned out in your job? Do you have strategies to keep it from happening? Please share them in the comments section.

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