How to Stop Fundraiser Burnout Before it Happens
Fundraising burnout is real, and statistics show that fundraisers often leave their job within 18-24 months
. Why is this happening, and what can we do to stop it?
It’s no secret that nonprofit employees are often overworked and underpaid. Not only is the day-to-day work extremely draining, but your mission could take a toll on your mental health. Working with the most vulnerable people in your community or societies' biggest problems can create feelings of guilt and be emotionally draining.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, overworked and underpaid, it’s probably time to make a change for the better. Your health should always come first, and monitor how you’re feeling to avoid burnout before it happens.
What Is Fundraiser Burnout?
According to Help Guide
, burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that occurs when we feel overwhelmed by too many demands, too few resources, and too little recovery time. For nonprofit employees working in emotionally draining environments, there is also a possibility of catching compassion fatigue.
There is too much to do, not enough time or enough resources, making the perfect environment for burnout to occur. The good news is that it is preventable, and by knowing and recognizing the signs, you can stop it before it begins.
As people working in the charitable and not-for-profit sector, you are trying to right a wrong, fix something broken or deal with injustice. These are heavy topics and not something the average person experiences in their lifetime, let alone daily.
According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
, compassion fatigue is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create secondary traumatic stress for the helper. Not only is burnout something to look out for, but compassion fatigue is too.
Signs of Fundraising Burnout
There are many signs you could be facing burnout, like:
- Chronic fatigue
- Lack of desire to get to work
- Lack of effectiveness (something that is usually easy for you is now a huge challenge)
- Anger or resentment towards your job or others
- Headaches, stomach aches, intestinal issues
- Being overly emotional
- Frequent illnesses
- Anxiety/ panic attacks
- Loss of patience with the day-to-day functions of your job
There are general symptoms. Outlined below are the four main signs that you’re starting to get burnt out.
The Little Things Are Starting to Get To You
Everything feels like it’s rubbing you the wrong way. The way a coworker talks to you, the wifi glitches, or you don’t have the energy to tell your board that this quarter’s goals are not realistic. It seems your fuse has gotten a lot shorter, and even the most trivial of things will set you off.
Irritation is often the first sign of burnout. If left unchecked, it can make you behave in ways you don’t usually, like making snarky comments to a friend or arguing with a coworker. You need some rest. No one should come into work already feeling like you're at your wit’s end.
You Can’t Concentrate.
There is too much on your mind, and you keep forgetting that phone call, even though you have it in both your Google calendar and written on your to-do list. Important information begins to slip your mind, and it seems like you’re spinning around, unable to focus on anything.
When you are stressed and overworked, it will affect your concentration. It’s best to take a break and come back with a clearer mind after reaching this point. It’s tough to focus on a task (and do it properly) if you’re feeling stressed, so do yourself a favour and step away.
You’re Sluggish, Even With A Full Night's Rest
When you’re feeling tired more than usual or notice that even with enough sleep, you can’t seem to keep your eyes open, you’re overworked. Sleep sometimes is not enough. When you’re burnt out, you’ve reached past the point of feeling tired and are both physically and mentally exhausted.
This can also lead to anxiety, making it hard to work throughout the day or even to get up in the morning. When this happens, the best thing to do isn’t reach for another coffee, sugary snack or energy drink. It’s to take some time off and get some well deserved R&R.
You Can’t Stop Working
Beyond not being able to stop working, you are scared to stop. You feel the only way to get everything done is to work through lunch, in the evening and over the weekend.
It could be because you’re so passionate about your cause that you feel compelled to push through, but remember, your health should always come first. Take a break and take some time to appreciate yourself. It’s often hard to stop to smell the roses when you’re in the thick of the bush, but you should.
What Causes Burnout
For each person, the cause of their burnout could be different. It can mean you’re physically overworking yourself, spending way too much time focused on work without a break. Or perhaps there is something stressful happening at your workplace. You’re dealing with an incredibly stressful situation with a client or have gone through an experience that has left you with trauma.
Generally, burnout or compassion fatigue occurs from
- Witnessing patients, pets, or donors pass away or decline.
- Balancing doing work you love with living comfortably
- Toxic work environment
- An expectation to "push through the pain” because there is work to be done
- Feeling that what you are doing is not enough.
The list can go on. When you begin to neglect your feelings and engulf yourself with your work, it may become hard to separate your personal life from your professional life.
Tips on How to Prevent Burnout
Avoiding burnout starts with you.
Focus on yourself, and don't be scared to be "selfish” because taking care of yourself physically and mentally is never selfish. Preventing fundraiser burnout starts and ends with self-care, ensuring you are getting the support you need to do your job correctly.
This can mean taking a day off every once in a while, spending 10 minutes at lunch to go for a walk and step away from the desk to turn your phone off after 6 pm. It goes back to the basics like eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep and advocating for yourself at work.
You know better than anyone that working in the charitable sector is hard, especially as a fundraiser. December is usually a time for people to rest and spend time with families, and you're out there running Giving Tuesday Campaigns, sending year-end appeals, and so much more.
has a terrific list of things you can do to practice self-care to help reduce stress. Find what makes you happy and relaxed and make it a priority.
What to Do When Experiencing Burnout
Acknowledge How Far You’ve Come
Make a list of 10 things you’ve accomplished that year. Write it down in a notebook, word document, or sticky note and come back to it when you feel like you’re not doing enough.
Dig deep and be generous! Did you hold your first-ever virtual fundraiser? Great! You learned something new. Maybe you reached or exceeded your fundraising goal. COVID took us all by surprise, and if you’re still standing after the last 12 months, then you’re already a hero to me.
Fundraising isn’t easy, so you should be proud of yourself and appreciate how far you’ve come.
Celebrate Your Fundraising Progress!
Get your nonprofit’s current revenue number and celebrate, regardless of how it compares to your original fundraising goals.
Get a cake, have a virtual celebration or a dance party for one. Fundraising any amount of money for a good cause is already amazing. You are helping make the world a better place with every single dollar you raise. Whether it’s finding animals a loving home, helping to heal the environment, providing food or shelter for the homeless, you’re doing extraordinary things and we should be proud of you and your team.
Even if you came up a little short and your Director or Board is unhappy, know that you are still helping people with your work. Regardless of any goals set months or a year ago, you worked to make a difference in someone's life, and that is worth celebrating.
Reconnect With Your Mission
This is more than reading over your nonprofit’s pitch document or mission statement. It’s looking into why you are invested in the organization and why the cause means so much to you. What drew you to fundraising in the first place?
Think about the reason why you love your job and use that passion to get excited about work again. Nonprofit burnout often occurs when you’re overworked and unmotivated, so take the time to remember why that cause is important to you.
Supporting Others Experiencing Burnout
You can help others avoid fundraiser burnout by reaching out and letting them know you’re there for them.
Before offering advice or try to "fix” their stress, listen to what they have to say. Having someone to talk to can mean the world to someone struggling with burnout. The next step is to validate what they are feeling.
Everyone experiences fundraiser burnout in different ways, and saying that it "doesn’t sound that bad” or "every fundraiser deals with those issues” can be invalidating and make them feel worse. Instead, try to sympathize with them. Acknowledge how hard they have been working and reassure them of their feelings.
Finally, act on it. Offer some tips or resources they can use to help themselves or ask how you can support them. Even making small gestures like buying flowers, getting a coffee or sending a text can be a great way to offer support.
Fundraising burnout is a real issue faced by nonprofits and fundraisers everywhere. Taking the time to check in with yourself and looking for signs of burnout is so important. If you’re not feeling like yourself, it’s ok to take some time off and look after yourself.
Self-care is vital to prevent burnout, avoid work exhaustion and lower stress levels both in your professional and personal life. Fundraising is all about connecting others to your mission, sharing your passion and getting donors motivated to support your nonprofit.
Avoiding burnout in fundraising is possible, especially if you are willing to advocate for your workplace needs. So if you need support in the form of time off, fundraising software, more support or more realistic goals speak up.