By: Melissa Lagowski
Big Buzz Idea Group
Have you ever lost sleep at night with the feeling that you aren’t meeting the needs of your nonprofit? Do you devote all your time and effort successfully leading the organization only to receive that one negative comment from a board member that leaves you beating yourself up for days? Are you struggling with keeping your association – as well as your staff, board and volunteers – navigating current events to find yourself completely depleted at the end of the day?
There is no “one way” to run a nonprofit organization. Each nonprofit has its own mission and a unique cast of characters who lead it to fulfill that mission. Most nonprofit leaders are natural “givers” who are always focused on doing good and very often putting the needs of others before themselves. Since this can be detrimental to both you and the organization, we wanted to remind you about the importance of taking care of yourself.
As your energy is depleted, it’s easier to take things more personally, and simple comments can sting a bit sharper. You may not be as quick with the appropriate response, and you are likely to beat yourself up harder for any missteps that occur. It is not uncommon to lose your way a bit, but it is important to pay attention to these signs and recognize when it is time to invest in yourself to ensure that you remain the best leader possible for your organization.
- Get rest. Do not underestimate the value of a good night’s rest! It is estimated that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. During difficult times, more is needed for your body and mind to properly refresh and recharge.
- Get exercise. Depending on geography, getting outdoors to exercise may be difficult, but there are plenty of indoor options. Consider doing 25 jumping jacks while waiting for the microwave to heat your coffee or to get the blood pumping after sitting too long at your desk. When tuning in to another webinar, stand up and march in place while listening. There are apps like Verv and Fitbit that offer short workouts to accommodate every fitness level. A 10-minute yoga stretch routine or a 13-minute ab workout is a gentle way to keep your body active.
- Eat healthy. Nonprofit leaders are very busy people, typically forced to grab a bite of whatever can be found when hunger pangs strike. It’s crucial to take the time to be intentional about what you eat. Keep fruits and vegetables handy and plan ahead to make items that allow for easy prep. Different types of nuts are a great source of protein and energy. Be intentional about keeping healthy foods available to help reduce the amount of junk food that you take in.
- Give yourself space. It is natural to think that we must keep working harder to try to meet all the deadlines that are before us – not just at work, but at home, too. However, the exact opposite may be necessary. Sometimes it’s best to step away from work and responsibilities to allow yourself some free time to do things that bring joy and help to feed your soul so that you are able to jump back in the ring to fight another day. Don’t underestimate the value of allowing yourself a break!
- Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t “feel” right, it’s important to trust your instincts. The human body is an amazing machine that will often alert us when something is “off.” Whether that is from the questionable advice of a board member, or a personal need for a long weekend, or a new initiative that the staff is pushing for, listen to your internal voice. It often holds great wisdom in guiding us forward as well as when we should hit pause (even if it is only a temporary recess).
- Be honest with yourself and with others. It is okay to admit that you need a break. You are only human after all, so be honest with yourself when you need take a break (before you reach the breaking point). Vacations are a necessary part of allowing ourselves the ability to reset internally. And while we might not be able to take trips the way we were once accustomed, taking some time off here and there is beneficial for your well-being. Be honest with your board about your needs and check in with your staff to see if they need a pause, as well.
- Set work boundaries. It is crucial to carve out an uninterrupted block of time to do your most meaningful, focused work. Constant interruptions are disruptive to production, so create a schedule that will allow you time for some focused work. You may have to rearrange your day to start earlier or work later, but in the long run, you will feel more accomplished at the end of each day.
- Set personal boundaries. Lines sometimes blur between work and home. Set an end-of-day ritual that helps you officially conclude the workday and transition to your homelife. Don’t check email. Don’t take work calls. Don’t do work after work hours. Instead, respect your after-work hours and dedicate this time to refilling yourself with things you enjoy – family dinners, calls with friends, hobbies, exercise, journaling, etc. When we blur the lines between work and home, burnout becomes more likely – which is not good for you or your nonprofit.
- Celebrate your wins! One part of your end-of-day ritual should be to write down one to three wins or goals that you achieve each day, because gratitude helps you maintain perspective. Some days, just getting out of bed counts as a win! Things may be difficult these days, but it is rarely as dire as it seems. When you are depleted, it is easy to feel down on yourself, or to let an off-handed comment deflate you. When you keep a record of daily wins, you can review the list in those defeating moments and be reminded of all that you have accomplished for your organization. It is easy to forget how far you have come when the days all start to blur into each other, but when reflecting on the victories you have accomplished over a week, a month or a year, you are reminded of the growth and success that has actually been achieved.
- Create a solid support system. No one can do it alone, nor should they expect it from themselves. Be sure to have a trusted circle of peers or friends who understand what you are going through and check in with them regularly. “No man (woman) is an island.” It is not healthy to hold your anxieties, fears and struggles inside, so be sure to build a safe space where you can connect with others as part of your self-care. This support system does not allow you to wallow in self-pity; it should be a group that can relate to you well and help you brush yourself off to get back in the game.
Nonprofit leaders take care of so many other people – clients, board, staff, volunteers and donors. And that is just at work! Add in family life whether that be parents, children or siblings, and it is easy to lose yourself in the mix. Now more than ever, it is so important that you realize self-care comes in many forms, and it is critical to make dedicated time for yourself to maintain your health and be the leader that you were born to be.