Give Us Your Tired
Four Reasons You and Your Staff are Burnt Out and Three Ways to Bounce Back
(This blog was co-authored with Derek Kessen of On Center Consulting)
Nonprofits are in survival mode. You work every weekend, you give everything to your clients and leave nothing for yourself, you can’t give anymore and yet it’s not enough.
Systems don’t work, the team is unhappy, and the community isn’t sure we’ll be there when they need us. There’s never enough time or money to fix it, so we just hold on until tomorrow.
Does this sound like you?
- Is your donor management system so confusing that when the 2020 Blackbaud hack happened, you couldn’t find your login to figure out whether you were impacted?
- Do you have social workers trying to be human google maps while answering the reception desk phone line or nurse practitioners entering data into Excel in between keeping people off the streets and healthy?
- Are your finances so thin that you actually returned a call from that QAnon guy because you know he has money? Do you court every donor as if your life depends on it? Because it does?
It doesn’t have to be this way. How did we get here?
- Firefighter Mode is the Default for Nonprofits – People are in crisis. Lives are on the line. There is always an immediate need today, so planning ahead becomes a to do item on next year’s list. That includes strategic plans, data plans, evaluation plans, and staffing plans. Let’s not even start on succession plans.
- Strings are Definitely Attached. And you are about to get tangled up in them. – People give you money and you jump at it. But that foundation donation comes with expectations that you can’t meet. And the collateral damage can be massive. And those volunteers? They need training. LOTS of training. That volunteer who built you an Access database? It doesn’t work anymore and now you are stuck with it. And what about that retired executive who wants to “come inspire your kids?” Just say no.
- Thinning the Soup – Every dollar goes to programs and services. So, programs are serving more people with the same staff, but those staff don’t have ANY human resources support, or mental health coverage, or a working system to enter their data into. So, they keep doing more and more, with the same puny support services. While funding programs feels like the right thing to do, it comes at the expense of your staff’s quality of life and mental health.
- Free Like a Puppy – You want to make the most of your scarce resources. So you are always on the hunt for free services, software, and staff. Frankly, you’ll take about anything if it’s free. But often free is free like a puppy. And free puppies—cute as they are—come with unexpected and ongoing expenses. Not to mention, running your organization like an extreme couponer will always leave you with extra of what you don’t need and not enough of what you do need.
Your time and your money are devoted to your community and your programs. Those growing programs keep serving more people with the same staff and support services. While funneling all your resources (by choice or by mandate) to programs feels like the right thing to do, it comes at the expense of your staff’s quality of life and mental health. This is why so many people are burnt out. They have to choose between their hearts and a sustainable lifestyle. They keep doing more and more work until finally something has to give.
It could be so much better.
You might think you don’t have what it takes to turn things around. But we promise, you do. Here are three things you should stop doing, and three things you can start doing today. You have all you need to support your staff, change your future, and put what you need in place to be a highly effective organization and achieve your mission.
Stop Doing 3 Things
- Avoid Mission Creep: An education organization seriously considered buying and renting out heavy machinery. We talked them out of it. Because…education. Our culture of “more” sends us down all kinds of untenable paths. If you try to change everything, you won’t be able to change anything. As the Cheshire cat said, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Be clear about why you exist, and communicate it regularly…to everyone.
- Dodge the Friendly Fire: Boards bring a ton of experience to our organizations. They are also perfectly willing to have YOU do more work. You and your staff are the ones holding the bag. It would take a steamer trunk to hold all the great ideas they just unleashed on you. But all you have is a carry-on bag. Trying to deal with the baggage of great ideas without additional resources means that none of your cargo ever gets where it’s going.
- Mine, Don’t Vacuum: People don’t build gold mines on top of empty canyons. It’s called data “mining” for a reason. There’s gotta be something good under there to collect. Most organizations treat their data management systems like a vacuum, sucking up everything in sight, which is expensive and also paralyzing for your data analysts (if you even have them).
Start Doing 3 Things
- Find Your Lane and Own It: You know what you do well. You should also know what outcomes your organization can (and can’t) achieve. Stick to what you are good at, stay with the target population, and seek the outcomes you are best at. This saves you mental energy (you don’t have to be an expert in maternal health AND housing) and other resources as well. Every time you move the goalposts, your already-stretched staff has to find a way to meet a new challenge they never signed up for and don’t understand. You may even have to hire entirely new people, invest in a new curriculum, or build new facilities. When your efforts are focused, your programs are stronger, more valuable and more reliable. A focus on your mission also allows you to identify exactly and only the data you need, and what you need in a data system…and bells and whistles you don’t need to pay for.
Want help finding your lane? Apply for our upcoming cohort…..
- Know When To Say No. We all need boundaries. Board members, volunteers, and major donors all love you. They want to help, and they get excited about what they can contribute. But if their ideas (or their money) is going to distract from your mission, create a project that you can’t do well, or spread your staff too thin, it’s your responsibility to politely explain why you can’t do it. Use this as an opportunity to remind them what your strategic plan is (you have one, right?). Help them understand what you do need, what your priorities are and they can start pulling in the same direction with you, instead of pulling you apart.
- Dig Deep with Your Data: Make sure you are digging deep to get exactly what you need, and not just hoovering up whatever is laying around. Do an assessment of your data and your systems. How do you identify the most important thing to do with your data systems – that you can do yourself? Where is everything, what are you collecting that you don’t need and can let go of? Then invest in getting exactly what you need most. And consider letting the rest go.
Ready to dig deep? The Inciter Impact Blueprint is the fastest and easiest way to map out where all your information lives, identify the best way to connect the data across campaigns, and layout how to automate the whole process, taking all the manual wrangling of data off your plate. And it can be done in only two weeks.