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My Tips on Staying Sane as a Nonprofit Fundraiser

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This post is a complement to a podcast episode of Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster, of which I am a monthly contributor. To listen to the episode related to this topic, click here.

We’re all working our hearts out to help improve the world, through the organizations we work with and for. But we can only give to others as much as we have given to ourselves, so it’s important to talk about how to stay sane and thrive as a nonprofit fundraiser.

Not taking it all on

Fundraisers have a tough job. They have organizations relying on them, and therefore people who receive services relying on them. After all, this work can’t be done without the funds to support it.

As someone who works in fundraising, it can be easy to take on the pressure, especially if budgets are not being balanced and money is not coming in. But this is too much to take on as one individual person. Fundraising is too volatile of a practice to have any one person to blame. You could work for hours on a mail piece that raises a small amount of money or you could get an unsolicited donation that blows everything out of the water. The point is, it is not solely on your shoulders if the money does not come in. You cannot take on the pressure that if your work does not produce the money you were expecting, you failed. There are too many other factors to consider. So let that go, and hopefully, that helps you feel better and stop worrying.

Communicating

A lot of stress comes from not fully understanding expectations, from your boss or your board. When there are misunderstandings, it can be a huge point of stress. Communicate as much as you can with your boss or your board about what you think your priorities are, what you are working on, and what you aren’t working on. That way, they can let you know in advance if they have a different idea. And you’ll feel better that you guys are on the same page.

Staying Organized

Lists…. Ahhhh. OK, I know not everyone is like me and feels better about their projects after making a list. But I know many of us are! Figure out what planning mechanism works best for you and stick to it. Do you like spreadsheets? Post-it notes? Whatever it is, stay organized as much as possible. Having something to refer to every day about your tasks can help you stay sane.

Taking breaks

Did you eat lunch at your desk today? How about yesterday? As much as possible, take breaks. If you’re able to eat your lunch away from your desk, do it! Getting out of your work environment can relax your mind and get you in a better headspace. Sometimes, it can even help you solve a problem. There have been many times where I have not been able to figure something out, I’ve walked away from my desk, and came up with the idea as soon as I sat back down.

Lunch breaks are nice, but there is something else equally as important: vacations. Make sure to schedule and go on vacation. Do as much prep work in advance, over-communicate to others when you will be on vacation, and set an out of office email for when you will be away. Then, don’t check email!!! Even glancing through will just get you back in the mindset of work mode. When you’re on vacation, don’t dwell on what may or may not be happening at the office. It will all get sorted out. And if it makes you anxious, tell one person you trust that they can text you with anything urgent.

No email outside of work

Speaking of email outside of work… try not to check it so much. If you heavily rely on that tactic now, try to wean yourself off. Go in phases… try not checking email from Friday night to Sunday morning, then all weekend, then no weekday evenings… once you get into the habit of not responding to emails on off hours, your coworkers will adapt to you.

In conclusion

At the end of the day, although we’re doing important work, many of our tasks have arbitrary, internal deadlines. If you’re coming up on something stressful, see if you can shift any of the timeline. Breathe, and remember you are doing great work!

-N.C.

Announcing My New Website

As I pivot into contract based work helping nonprofits do fundraising, it’s important that my message is clear: and so, I’ve launched a new website! It’s likely you’re reading this post on my new website, but if you’re reading this post from an email subscription or another way, check out www.nonprofitchapin.com and let me know what you think!

Last Thursday was my last day with my previous employer, a wonderful theater nonprofit in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. I have a few weeks off before I start my first contract, where I’ll be helping a nonprofit put together a three year fund development plan and evaluate their fundraising systems, including their donor database. It’s going to be a whole new type of relationship to my work, and I’m excited to try something new!

This transition has not been easy, and it has not been quick. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for over a year now. But after a whole bunch of informational interviews and a lot of soul searching, I’m proud of this leap I’m in the middle of. And I implore you to think about a leap that you’ve been considering. Get out there and do some research! You never know where those thoughts might lead you…

-N.C.

Celebrating Six Years of Blogging & the Next Chapter for Nonprofit Chapin

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I’ve been waiting to write this blog post for months. I’ve been waiting to make these career decisions for even longer. And today, on the sixth anniversary of this blog, I am ready to share what I’ve been thinking about for so long – my plans for the future.

Over my eleven years of working in fundraising and marketing for nonprofits I have learned so much. I’ve learned about the joys and the challenges of working in nonprofits, that there is always work to be done, and that at the end of the day, the work changes lives.

I’ve also learned to key in on the elements of work that I enjoy and that I’m really good at.

  • I have eleven years of experience of working in various roles in development teams, and have a real knack for thinking about efficient operations. I know how to effectively manage direct mail appeals, put together major gifts programs, write and report on grants, put on a gala, or maintain a donor database.
  • I love thinking about how teams work and supervising staff. Empowering nonprofit staff to do their best work – while taking care of themselves and their needs – is a real passion of mine.
  • I love working in periods of change and transition – I like thinking on my feet and introducing new solutions to problems. And I have a knack for being a calming force during a time of chaos.
  • I’d like to work with a greater variety of nonprofits. Ever since I got my Masters in Nonprofit Administration, I’ve been craving the ability to use the breadth of knowledge I received with a wide range of organizations.
  • I want more flexibility with my time. I’ve realized that when I work constantly, I get in a zone and more quickly burn out, not doing my best work. I want a better balance so that I can do better work.

I’ve taken a lot of time to think about all of this, and had a bunch of informational interviews with people who have worked in development for a long time, and have landed on my next career move:

I’m looking to move into interim development director work.

I’ll help manage your development team, ensure your daily operations are taken care of and that money is raised, and even evaluate your current development program and make some recommendations. I’ll help during your search, help make a smooth transition to your permanent development director and then leave you to succeed.

With the constant state of turnover that many nonprofits find themselves in with this key position, I hope to fill a real need. Just because you’re between development directors doesn’t mean you have to put additional pressure on your current team or redirect someone else’s time. I can come in and help make sure everything runs smoothly.

My last full time day with my current employer is April 7. After some time off, I’ll be looking for jobs like this. If you hear of anyone who might need something like this, please think of me! I’ll be relying on my community of support – and that certainly includes you – to get me plugged in where I need to me. Many thanks in advance!!

-N.C.

Make 2017 the Year of Self Care

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We’re one month into the new year – have your resolutions gone to the wayside? Are you back in the rut of crazy, stressful days working away, with no time to think or take a breath?

I thought that might be the case!

And so, I wanted to remind you all of this brilliant piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy: 10 Ways to Work Smarter in 2017 by Rebecca Koenig. Note the apropos use of the word smarter as opposed to harder. This piece has strategy and self-care all over it: two of my favorite words.

You should take the time to read about all ten ways, but here are some of my favorites and why:

  • Reserve time to work without meetings. I use time blocking in my calendar and it is the only way I stay organized and productive! I put most of the projects I’m working on as “Free” time in Outlook, but if there’s something you need to work on with no interruptions, you can always say you’re busy. A meeting with yourself is just as important (if not more) than a meeting with others.
  • Stop overusing social media at work. Can I shout this one from the rooftops? I’m definitely one to pop on all my social media channels during my lunch break, but if it’s not break time, it’s not Snapchat time. It’s easy to spend hours on Facebook, so don’t tempt yourself and don’t do it!
  • Build strong relationships outside of your office. Spending time with other people who work in the nonprofit world but not at your organization can be incredibly rejuvenating. It can make you feel like you’re not alone in your struggles, or make you realize how wrong something is. Either way, it’s a success. And it is very validating!
  • Accept imperfection. Made a mistake? Don’t beat yourself up about it. The more you stress over it, the more it creeps into the quality of your work. Mistakes are what make the successes even that much sweeter.

Brava, Rebecca Koenig. And here’s to a 2017 full of self-love!

-N.C.

You’re in Control

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It’s super easy to get caught up in the day to day. You wake up at the same time, do your same morning ritual, get to the office, and move on with your work. After a few months, you start to get the hang of it and it’s almost as if you’re going on autopilot.

It’s easy in these moments to keep going with the status quo. Even if you’re not feeling fulfilled by your work, your boss is terrible, and your hours are long, the easiest path to take is staying put.

But – it’s not the best path to take.

Moments where you’re entrenched in the usual routines are the moments I challenge you most to consider your actions – or, inaction. Are you happy with where you are and what you’re doing? Is there anything you would change about your situation if you could?

Speaking of “if you could” – chances are, you can. You’re in control of more things than you may think. You’re in control of where you work, how much you make, and how many hours you work. Heck, you’re even in control of whether you’re employed. Sure, there are external factors (including the need to make money to buy food and pay rent), but even those can be manipulated to some extent. Can you cut down your grocery bill and save up enough to have a month’s rent cushion? Can you tell your boss that you need a more flexible schedule? Or, more drastic, can you move to a different country and work remotely? The possibilities are endless, and it’s only your excuses that are holding you back.

Jobs will come and go. Remember that, for the most part, you’re in control of your situation. And try to stay true to what will make you the most happy. Because at the end of the day, there’s only one person whose feelings matter: you.

-N.C.

Be Mindful of Your Vibes

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In the nonprofit sector, we’re all working like crazy. Sometimes I get to the end of the day and think, what did I accomplish today?? Of course, the actual answer to that is a bunch of stuff, but sometimes the time just flies by. And before you know it, it’s time to go.

We’re all working at 110%. Which is why it’s super important to be mindful of how we talk about that fact. It can be easy to default to complaints:

“I worked 12 hours yesterday, and 11 the day before. This is too much! I just have so much work to do. I’m exhausted and by the time I get home, I don’t want to spend time with my family, I just want to go to sleep. Also, I just gave my first born baby to my boss!”

OK, that last complaint went too far, but you get the picture. And I’m not downplaying the work that anyone is putting in. But I am saying that the way we frame the hard work we are doing makes a difference. It’s very likely that someone heard that venting session and thought to themselves,

“Well gosh. I only worked nine hours yesterday and a measly eight hours the day before! I feel bad, my colleague is working her butt off and I’m sitting around eating bonbons. I’d better work longer hours and put in more time!”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Your colleague working longer days does not mean that your day will be any shorter. In fact, it will probably just make the mood more miserable, since everybody will be stressed out. Instead, I’d recommend framing your feelings this way:

“Because of the board meeting yesterday, I worked a pretty long day. Sometimes things like that happen. I’m planning to leave early tomorrow to make up that time.”

Boom. No additional explaining, no apologizing for leaving early. Of course, you might want to frame this as a question if you’re talking to your boss. But if it’s a colleague, just leave it at that. It’s no one else’s business if you’re working more than eight hours a day. I’d argue that it’s usually something within your control. So, keep it to yourself. And be mindful of your vibes. They really make a difference.

-N.C.

Redefining Purpose-Oriented in the Nonprofit Sector

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I came across this fascinating post in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Nonprofits Need to Give Workers a Sense of Purpose and thought, as many others likely did, what the heck? What’s more full of purpose than showing up to work and having every task, even the most menial, work toward a larger goal of helping others?

I read the piece and realized: this is a different kind of purpose. And I’m totally for it.

The author defines a purpose-oriented worker as the following:

“This group defines work as being about relationships, having a meaningful impact, and personal growth. They see work as a means to serve others and grow themselves. They need to get paid and be acknowledged, but that’s not what gets them out of bed each morning.”

Pay close attention to the inclusion of self-growth in this definition: that’s what is often missing in others, and that is what is a key takeaway here.

The author writes that 45% of all nonprofit workers land in this category, and they are exceptional. We should do all we can to encourage this attitude: one of personal growth and employee fulfillment. This is the way to attract and retain good employees, not just by giving raises across the board (although that helps too!). Investing in our people is the most important thing we can do as nonprofit leaders to ensure the success of the nonprofits of the future.

I encourage you to take a look at the piece – it’s a great read and a good reminder that no matter what sector we work in, taking care of ourselves is the most important thing.

-N.C.

A Brand New Role in a Brand New City

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It’s been some months since I’ve blogged – I’m sorry about that! But I promise there’s a good reason: I’ve been busy learning and growing in a brand new role in a brand new city. I accepted a new position: Associate Director of Development at a theater nonprofit. I started there on August 19 and have been getting to know the ropes and my role in the development team.

I was attracted to this position because I was ready and craving the next step in my career. Over the past few years, I have gained multiple direct reports and realized that my favorite time at work was working with these folks. I really enjoy thinking about how development teams work and I was looking for a new step that would allow me to contribute to that most thoughtfully.

And that’s where my current job comes in. This brand new position was created to inject capacity into a department where everyone is working at 150% and no one is able to step back and plan (sound familiar?). I am able to serve as the liaison between the development director and the rest of the development staff, manage daily operations, and assist the development director with department strategy. I was excited that this nonprofit identified the need for this kind of role and happy I could fit in to help.

I am learning a tremendous amount at my new job, and the possibilities are endless about what I could write about here. In addition to the development operations, I get to focus on developing the people in our department, which I love – a nonprofit is only as good as the amount of happy people working for it.

So thanks for being patient with me, and I hope you’ll read the coming posts as I navigate through my new role. It’s not always going to be pretty, but it’s always going to be honest. I appreciate you understanding that.

-N.C.

Care Less & Achieve More at Work

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I recently came across this post and found it fascinating: Want to Be Happy at Work? Care Less About It by Kelly O’Laughlin on Quiet Revolution. Whether or not you’re an introvert, you will likely relate to this post if you’re a hard-working Millennial working at a nonprofit. So many of us are working our hearts out for our clients and for the benefits of others, and unfortunately the term “nonprofit burnout” is not one that’s foreign to us.

I was hesitant to completely buy in to the post until she compared my 80% effort to others’ 100%… and then I got it. By not giving my all 100% of the time, I am recognizing that I am not perfect and cannot solve all of the world’s problems all by myself. It’s a moment of remembering my last post, Be An Average Nonprofit Unicorn. This quote specifically resonated with me:

“Putting in slightly less effort in times of high stress doesn’t mean you don’t care about your job; it means you care about yourself more.”

Let’s remember to focus on self-love and self-care first and foremost. Because we can only show up to take care of others after we have shown up to take care of ourselves.

-N.C.

Be An Average Nonprofit Unicorn

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I absolutely LOVE this post, Mediocrity Starts with ME (humor) by Vu Le on Blue Avocado, a fantastic online magazine for the nonprofit sector. Although the post is six months old, I think it will (unfortunately) be one of those timeless posts that will always ring true. Through his witty and dry sense of humor, Vu asks us to take a breath, take a look around, and… take a nap. Chill out for a minute!

As nonprofit staffers, we are fully committed to the missions of the organizations we work for. We are working tirelessly to make the world a better place for our clients and our peers. We work long hours and pour our heart and soul into our work. All that is great – until we burn out. Vu poignantly and emphatically encourages us to give ourselves a break. Although we all strive for perfection in our jobs, doing our best is and should be good enough. We can’t all be the Jane of all trades to everyone – and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be. Calm down and know that you, doing your best, is enough! You are a nonprofit unicorn!

To quote Vu:

The Nonprofit Unicorn’s Mantra

“I am a nonprofit unicorn.
I try each day to make the world better.
I am good at some stuff, and I suck at some stuff, and that’s OK.
There’s way more crap than I can possibly do on any given day.
On some days I am more productive than on other days, and that’s OK.
I know sometimes there are things that I certainly could have done better.
I know that I can’t make everyone happy or spend as much time as I could on everyone.
I know there’s a bunch of crap I don’t know.
Sometimes I make mistakes, and that’s OK.
I will try my best to learn and to improve, but I’ll also give myself a break.
I will be as thoughtful and understanding with myself as I am with my clients and with my coworkers.
I am an awesome and sexy nonprofit unicorn.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

-N.C.