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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.

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.

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.

Year Four of Nonprofit Chapin & Tough Conversations

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Today marks four years that I’ve had this blog and let me tell you, my third year was definitely my hardest so far. As you may remember, I received my Masters in Nonprofit Administration in December 2013, right before my blog turned three. I was inspired and ready to tackle some important issues about nonprofit sector effectiveness. And then… life happened. I got wrapped up in the day to day happenings of being a Donor Relations Manager at a very busy nonprofit and almost all of my thought about nonprofit efficiencies switched to wondering how I could stay sane at my job. Then… things clicked.

I realized that while I still had passion and interest in sector-wide issues, the issues I was dealing with on a daily basis weren’t as pretty, and were just as important (or even more important) to talk about. As nonprofit employees, we have a very unique set of challenges and issues to deal with. In years one and two of this blog, I focused more on posting about that. Year three, as I hoped to continue my journey into academia related to the nonprofit sector, unfortunately fell short. But I want to make a renewed commitment to come back to this blog and talk about the nitty gritty of handling yourself as a nonprofit employee. How can we all work hard, thrive, and still go home with some energy? I’m still learning myself, but I hope I can start some dialogue here to get us on the path to some shared ideas.

So, thanks for being patient with me. In year four I hope to tackle some important issues that we all deal with, and bring to light some not-so-pretty subjects. That’s the only way we’ll all get through this journey alive, and at the end of the day, we all hope we get out better than alive! We hope to get out thriving!

-N.C.

P.S. I updated my layout, headshot, About Me blurb, and About Me page – what do you think?

Forgiving Ourselves as Millennials in the Nonprofit Sector

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I’m currently participating in a six week series on Metta, or loving-kindness meditation. Lately we’ve been focusing on self-love and last week we reviewed the very important concept of forgiving yourself.

This is such an important thing to remember in the workplace too. As Millennials in the nonprofit sector, we have a trend to be too hard on ourselves. We know the good we want to do in the world and the potential our energy, skills, and insight brings to the table. We want to change the world and we know we can.

So when we slip up, we get very frustrated and mad at ourselves. We worry about how it looks to our colleagues – looking like we don’t know what we’re doing might be the worst thing we can imagine. Our professional reputation is extremely important to us. We feel it dictates our entire future. It defines us.

The truth is, everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are what make us human and teach us how to deal with issues as they come up. Getting through a slip up can cause you to learn so much and be a better person. It can teach you resilience and professionalism. It can teach you how to be a better employee and a better manager.

So, this is a call that we must forgive ourselves. Forgive ourselves for any mistakes we have made at work. Ten years from now, none of this will matter. Will it matter ten months from now? Ten days from now? Likely not. Forgive yourself and let go of the past. It will liberate you to move forward with your work in a brand new way. Don’t worry: you’re still changing the world.

-N.C.

Stressed Out? Here’s What To Do About It

As our world becomes more and more fast paced, the role of stress in our lives is increasing. We are expected to get better results, faster, and more easily. This expectation carries over into the nonprofit sector. Funders, donors, and clients are expecting quality services to be readily available, effective, and easy to use. Nonprofit employees would want nothing less, and have similar lofty expectations and goals for their own work and themselves. They are passionate about their work and the people they serve, so naturally they want to deliver their services in the most efficient way possible and help as many people as they can. They work hard to achieve success and they take a lot of pride in their work. Unfortunately, when expectations get out of control, there’s a very bad consequence: stress.

I recently took a course in Nonprofit Human Resource Management for my Masters in Nonprofit Administration program at University of San Francisco and did my final paper on the ways that Human Resources departments can address the problem of the role of stress in the lives of nonprofit employees. I first administered an informal survey (to my delight, I received 158 responses!), and the paper reviews some of my very interesting findings from this.

At the end of the paper there’s an addendum that is a short takeaway for Human Resources departments to take.

I wanted to share this paper and addendum on this blog because I see you all, my readers, as my community, supporters, and champions of the sector. You have seen that this is a topic I care deeply about, not just for my personal sanity but also for the health and sustainability of the nonprofit sector. We need to address this problem!

Click here to see my paper, and please let me know if anything great comes of it!

Enjoy!

-N.C.

Your Boss is Less Stressed Out Than You Are

I recently came across this article about a stress study done recently that produced an interesting finding: higher level employees are less stressed than lower level employees. This finding jives with what I found when I did a study on the role of stress in the lives of nonprofit employees. My data was self reported, unlike the article’s data which measured biological symptoms of stress, but nevertheless, the outcomes were similar – entry level employees were some of the most stressed out ones.

This sounds counter-intuitive at first. One might assume that with more responsibility comes more expectation, more to do and more stress. The study actually came to the conclusion that with a higher amount of control – something that higher level employees enjoy – the level of stress decreases. This is a great argument for the power of empowering lower level employees and instilling in others a sense of responsibility and ownership in their projects.

I have another idea. I’m not saying I’ve proven this in any sort of research project, but it’s just my postulation. We know that stress is most often self-imposed. I’d like to argue that higher level employees have more life experience and more awareness about how to manage stress. They have tools in their toolbelt and can identify when things are getting sticky.

Not to mention the concept that Millennials – the group that is entering the workforce right now at entry level positions – is made up of overachievers, perfectionists, and ambitious workers. We put very high expectations on ourselves, and that is manifesting in stress. And that needs to stop now!

I encourage you to be proactive about managing your stress, no matter where you fall on the food chain. I thought this article was interesting because it’s causing us all to think differently about what stress is and the role it has in the workforce and in our lives. It’s turned our traditional definition of stress on its head. And since stress is such an abstract thing that should really be paid attention to and analyzed, that’s just where it should be.

-N.C.