How to Stop Burnout

I’ve been there. Your organization desperately needs you. You work long hours. You work evening and weekend events. Your health, sleep, and family time takes a toll. Finally, you dread going to work.

It’s not because you don’t like the work or the mission of your organization. You’re just burned out.

And you’re not alone.

A 2013 CompassPoint study revealed that half of the chief fundraisers plan to leave their jobs within two years or less. Forty percent are thinking about leaving fundraising entirely.

To me, that’s a nonprofit crisis! With the revolving door of development directors, it’s no wonder why nonprofits are having difficulty raising major gifts and why donors are dissatisfied with the stewardship of their gifts.

While I could go on for many pages about what organizations, especially Executive Directors, need to do to slow down and eventually stop the turnover, I want to focus on the things that are in the Development Director’s control when it comes to burnout.

There are three things (although you may have others) that you can do to prevent or reverse burnout:

  1. Take a much deserved break! Yes, this seems simple and you may say that you can’t because it’s your busy season at work. In fundraising, it’s always the busy season! You need to take care of yourself. Your organization is going to be much worse off if you leave because of burnout. So whether it’s a week long vacation or a “mental health” day (or both!), I am giving you permission to take a break. Even if it’s a staycation, take the opportunity to sleep in, run errands you’ve been putting off, or have a movie night with your family or friends.
  2. Say no. You can only take on so much until you’re not doing anything well. As fundraiser, you’re a natural people pleaser. So when your board suggests a new event or your director needs you to send out the end-of-the-year gift receipts, think about three things: 1) Is this part of our fund development plan? If not, it’s taking you off things that you and your organization agreed are priorities. 2) What is the ROI on this task? As the fundraiser, everything you do has a cost (actual expenses and opportunity costs). Your job is to find a way to maximize the ROI on your time. One of my personal pet peeves is when we call failed fundraisers “friendraisers.” There are easier, less time consuming, and cheaper ways to raise friends! 3) Is there someone else that can do this task, especially if it’s not related to revenue generation? Yes, those gift receipts need to go out, but does the development director need to be doing it? I would say no. It’s an administrative task that most staff members can do. Your fundraiser needs to be making donor calls, visiting with prospects, and stewarding current donors.
  3. Reconnect with the mission. If you work in the nonprofit sector, you are a mission-driven person. You want to make the world a more caring, creative, healthy or safe community. When you’re heading down the road to burnout, you need to take time to remind yourself why you do this work. Fundraising is hard work – but it is also very rewarding. You get to enable donors to make their dreams come true! You get to make your community a better place! So take some time during the day to see your organization’s work in action. Do you work for a food bank? Help pack a few boxes of food. Do you work for an art museum? Participate in the outreach program.

Your work is incredibly important. But we all need you to be healthy and happy to be able to do this work.

What other advice would you have for fundraisers that feel exhausted and overwhelmed?

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Sarah Cortell Vandersypen

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