I talk to many major gift officers, development professionals and non-profit executives every week. Perhaps it’s the time of year, or the stage in their careers, but I’m hearing from a large portion of them that they are burned out, stressed out and contemplating a move to another line of work.
For some folks, leaving and taking on something new is probably a pretty good idea. But for others, I hurt for them, because I know how good they are and I know what a loss it would be to lose their skills and expertise in the non-profit sector.
Richard and I think it’s a good idea to step back every once in a while and reflect on where you are. In other words, how are you feeling about your current position? How does it fit your skill set? Is what you’re doing today helping you move toward your future goals? Do you feel joy in what you do?
We would urge you to take that time to reflect… especially now, as we approach one of the most hectic times of the year for fundraisers.
I grew up Catholic, and one of the things I appreciated about that tradition was the ebb and flow of different seasons. If you ever noticed, before huge celebrations like Easter or Christmas comes a time of quiet and reflection – Lent or Advent.
So take a bit of “Advent” time and breathe. Reflect on where you are with your work. While you are reflecting, here are some ideas on how to avoid burnout and reduce stress as a major gift officer and development professional.

  1. Don’t take it all too seriously. This is probably one of the hardest things for you. Why? Because your work has serious consequences. However, if you are constantly “hunched over” (either literally or figuratively) and always feeling the weight of what you do, you will not last long. Not only that, but you’ll be miserable and awful to the people around you. You can work on serious issues, yet still carry a lightness about you that emanates joy.
  2. Take weekends off. You need time to decompress. Working over the weekend should be a rare occurrence. It’s hard, I know. Both Richard and I sometimes use the weekend to catch up on our work. I do know that when we take time away from “the work,” our brains function better and we’re just not as irritated.
  3. Take walks or a nap. You might have a tough time taking a nap at work. Although more forward-thinking companies are creating “sleep pods” for employees, your organization might not be there yet. But more people are getting flexible schedules where they can do some work from home, or by yourself when you’re on the road. I find that around 2:30pm every day I’m a little sleepy, and a quick 15-minute nap does the trick. If you can’t do that, I find a good brisk walk works wonders. It clears your mind, and it wakes you up. We sit so much of the day, it’s much better to move around and clear your head. I’ve never talked to anyone who said walking lowered their productivity or made them unhappy.
  4. Exercise regularly. This one has always been hard for me. However, over the last couple of years I’ve been pretty good about getting up early and swimming laps. I have found it to be an amazing way to relieve stress and feel better. Plus, I get some great blog ideas as I’m swimming through the water. Whatever you like to do for exercise, I would say it’s a must if you want to be at your best during a day full of fundraising work.
  5. Sleep! How much sleep are you getting? I know I need seven hours or I just don’t feel right. You may only need six, or perhaps you need nine. We are all different. But it’s hugely important to get the right amount. I do know that if I exercise, I also sleep better.
  6. Practice Gratitude. What are you grateful for today? That is what you should ask yourself each morning and each night. When I do this, it makes me feel better, and my body relaxes. It’s also fun to practice while lying in bed with your spouse or partner.
  7. Thank your donors. What does this have to do with lessening burnout? A lot, I think. Instilling in yourself a thanking spirit allows you to focus on why you do your work in the first place. You are doing this work to bring your donors together with a need they can help fill. That places a tremendous amount of stress on you. What better way to relieve that stress than by starting every day writing three to four thank you notes to your donors? It’s a great way to start your professional day.

Some of these are harder to do than others. But I know in my own life that when I’m doing all these, I just feel calmer, more focused, less agitated and more peaceful. So, at this moment when stress is all around you, take some time to pause and check in with yourself. How are you doing?