7 Ways to Avoid Burnout

burnout

Riddle me this Batmen and women… What’s the number one issue nonprofit leaders ask me about?

Here’s a hint… It has nothing to do with a disengaged board.

You figured it out, right? After all, it’s in the title of this blog post!

Burnout.

How do I avoid it? I know I should take better care of myself. I know in my heart that I will be more effective if I am not running on fumes, but I can’t get my head to execute.

Sound familiar?

It sure does to me. I work incessantly. And so when I get asked about this, I feel like I don’t exactly have a wellspring of credibility.

So I decided to ask friends and colleagues and share some of their easy and terrific ideas with you. I’ve made them available as a free download.

––> Download 7 Ways to Avoid Burnout

But…

Before you have a look, take this quick quiz to see if you are in desperate need of self care.

Don’t worry. It’s short. I know how busy you are…Continue Reading

10 Creative Ideas for Nonprofit Staff Retreats

nonprofit staff retreats

Nonprofit staff retreats are really important. They’re a chance to step away from your regular day-to-day stuff and focus on the bigger picture. To remove yourself from the normal distractions.

They are also a significant investment of time and energy (and sometimes money). You should plan them with intention and creativity, and engage the staff in the design.

Think about the best staff retreat you’ve ever attended. I bet there was some creativity thrown into the mix. That keeps things interesting.

So if you’re looking for some creative ideas for your next staff retreat, well, I’m here to help.

Do not worry for a nanosecond. No ropes courses or “let go and we’ll catch you” exercises to be found here.

Actually the help is not coming from me alone. I’ll offer a few, but I cannot take credit for all of them. I dropped into the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, my online membership site that supports board and staff leaders of small nonprofits around the world to ask for their creative ideas.

No surprise. They had some very, very good ones. These are very good people who are changing the world in ways large and small.

So here you go. Try a few of them on and see how they fit.Continue Reading

Nobody Warned Me About the “Executive Director 20”!

I knew what she meant the moment she hit “post.”

executive director stress

If you’re unfamiliar with the “freshman 15,” it’s all about that first year of college…. Too much pizza and beer. A lot of stress. And 15 pounds gained.

So this is the “Executive Director 20”.

Nothing in the Thriving Nonprofit Facebook group (my free Facebook group for nonprofit staff and board leaders which you can join here) has ever struck a chord quite like this. 371 likes and counting.

Plus, more than 80 folks weighed in with comments (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.) I have a feeling they’ll resonate with you.

  • “Per year?”
  • “Or the one meal per 14 hour day which may be at 9 pm and will be fast food, because it’s easy and you’re starving. The rest is sugar and caffeine.”
  • “Grrreaattt. another job perk!”
  • “It’s all the drinking”
  • “Make it 40 for me!”
  • “Totally real. I think it’s from being chained to the desk for 40+ hours per week, stress, and being to tired to cook good food when I get home. Chipotle has been very accommodating since this job started.”
  • “Don’t forget the ED blood pressure meds & antidepressant lol or is that just me?”
  • “For me, first time ED following the founder… ED 35, migraines, bronchitis, six months chronic back pain, some other stuff I can’t remember. Trying to get some sort of handle on managing the stress and pressure, and loneliness.”
  • “The comments on this thread are crazy. I really thought it was just me.”

While some of these comments illustrate the sense of humor that I really appreciate in nonprofit leaders, others border on heartbreaking. Folks are working their asses off (hope I’m not offending anyone but that feels like the real deal phrase) and working themselves into the ground.

I get it. I know I work too hard too. Just the other day I wrote the words “self care” and for some reason my iPhone autocorrected to “self scare”.

Clearly, many of you are stressed out beyond all reason. It’s not healthy and it’s not good.

But what can we do about it?

This topic is a big part of my upcoming free workshop, How to Build a Thriving Nonprofit, which starts on April 3rd. After all, you can’t thrive if you’re overwhelmed, stressed out, or if you feel completely alone. If you’re feeling those things, I invite you to please reserve a spot so I can help you.

I also want to say a few things about this here in the blog that I hope will help.

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It’s Time to Stop Using This Word

You know there’s a word I hear a lot from board and staff members of nonprofits, and it kind of drives me nuts. Actually makes me a little bit angry. Would you like to take a guess at what the word is? I’ll give you a minute. Why don’t you toss some ideas in the comments below? I’ll wait. The word that drives me crazy makes me kind of angry. One word. Almost ready?

The word is competition. When I first became a nonprofit executive director, I was floored at how often I heard this one word, competition. “Oh, she’s not gonna give to her organization because she already gives to XYZ org.” Or “What is that ED working tables at my fundraising gala?” Or the board members are bringing in news clippings or see things online where your colleague is quoted and not you. Right? You’ve been there.

So first, if your organization does not fill a unique gap in a sector or has some substantive overlap with another organization, could you just fix that? Address the problem, not the symptom. Secondly, considering an organization to be competitive misses the true essence of philanthropy. It was taught to me a long time ago by a mentor. She sat me down with her major donor list, we ordered in Chinese, and we looked through the list. She said, “Mary’s gonna really like what you’re doing,” or “Tom is in the entertainment business and he was really anxious for new leadership. I need to introduce you to those two people, and I think there are some others on the list too.” She understood what other leaders miss.

When you introduce people to the power of giving, guess what happens? It makes them feel good. Like, good good, like scientifically good. Like philanthropy actually releases dopamine in your brain, the neurotransmitter that creates pleasure. Amazing, right?

Here’s the other thing, is when you get invested in the sector, you care about a lot of organizations because the more you understand about how important the work is, the more you understand that it has to be tackled from different perspectives. So the big takeaway is that rising tides lift all those. Specifically, eliminate the word competition. Keep your mission clear and focused, and lastly, play nicely in your sector sandbox.

Share this video with your development committee, with your board, and remind them, “Please, all of you remember, you are part of a movement working to create real and lasting change.” You’re part of a movement, an orchestra of organizations, tackling the same issue from a host of different perspectives. Making real and lasting change, it takes a village.

The Case of the Very Bad Event Speech

Transcript below:

So Joan Garry here with another question that comes up quite often from board and staff leaders of nonprofit organizations.

This one, and I like to think of them as cases, is the case of the very bad event speech.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You’re sitting there, you love the organization actually, and you even had a glass of wine, so you’re predisposed, and the executive director gets up to start to talk. And she talks. And she talks. And then all of a sudden you start to see a lot of people heading back towards the open bar, and she’s still talking.

And in fact the speech is clear and passionate, but it goes on forever. You sort of lose the central point and it really slows down the pace of the event.

So I’m gonna offer you five steps in creating an event speech that I think should help you.

I’d begin with the most important one. People speak an average of 135 words per minute. Don’t ask me why I know that, I just do. I talk a little faster actually. So if you want a six-minute speech, and I think that’s exactly what you want, six to eight minutes, multiply six times 135 and that’s the number of words you should write for. It’s like a good sized blog post and that’s it. That’s the first one, is keep it tight and short. Leave them wanting more. Six, seven minutes maybe, 135 words a minute.

Number two, do not open your speech with thank you’s. Nothing will send people to the bar faster than that. I’d like to thank my board share, my board members, staff members, will you all please stand up? I’m already standing up and I’m heading to just check out my pal over at table number 16. Leave the thank you’s to someone else, the person who introduces you perhaps. Somebody else should do the thank you’s.

All right, that’s number two. So time, no thank you’s, here’s number three. How did you get involved? Bring the story to a personal note. I began as a kitchen volunteer here at project angel food back in 1986, and the people I sliced and diced with are my friends to this very day. You get it.

Number four, one fantastic story about the work. Don’t give me ten, don’t give me 12, don’t give me six, because I’m only gonna remember one, so just one, and make it count. Give it to me like I’m ten years old so I don’t miss it.

Number five, what are you up against? What’s the threat? What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? Don’t assume people know, and definitely don’t assume that people don’t understand the scope and magnitude of that problem.

And then my bonus is that every speech should call people to action in some way. Sometimes you’re asking for money. Sometimes you’re asking them to do more, to get engaged in different ways. But if you fire somebody up, don’t miss the opportunity to invite them to do more.

And that’s what a good speech should look like. See you next time.

How Nonprofits Should React to the New Tax Law

new tax law

Is the new tax law making you anxious? You’re not alone.

What will the impact be? This question is coming up everywhere we turn – emails from readers, conversations at nonprofit conference room tables, and certainly in our Nonprofit Leadership Lab. In the Lab, it’s been such a big topic, we’re working to bring in a tax expert to help us make sense of it all.

(Side note: if you’re curious about the Lab, which is designed to support leaders at smaller nonprofits, there’s a lot of information available here.)

Will our worst fears be realized and way fewer people will donate? Or simply donate less?

Some have argued that wealthy people will have more disposable income and actually donate more, offsetting other potential losses. It’s possible that some – even many – nonprofits will see an increase in revenues this year.

For now, we can only speculate. Time will tell.

But one thing I know to be true is this. It’s time to take a renewed look at how we approach fundraising. Any strategy that relied on the tax deduction is going to be a whole lot less likely to work.

So what should we do instead? Here’s a hint… think about New Year’s Eve.Continue Reading

It’s Time to Hire Your First Development Staffer

first development

Executive Director: “We need to hire a development director but we don’t have the money because my board isn’t helping me raise money.” 

Board Member: “If the E.D. would just raise more money, she could hire a development director and she’d stop nagging me to ask people for money (and I am quite sure that when I was recruited, I said I can’t do that.)

Sound familiar?

But let’s say you bust out of it. You’d shift things around, maybe you eliminate a position or you escort a poor hire off the organizational bus. VOILA! You have a full year of a salary for your first development hire.

Guess what? That’s the easy part. The hard part is making the right hire. Who exactly should you be looking for?

A poorly paid senior person?

An admin to support your development efforts?

Someone in the middle you expect to do it all?

Today, I’ll help you tackle this question. I’ve even included a sample job description you can download outlining the key responsibilities for your first development hire. It’s something you can review, tweak, and share with your board chair and your development committee (please tell me you have one) so you can set your hire (and you) (and your board) up for success.

Download a free sample job description here.
Continue Reading

Is It Ever OK to Micromanage Staff?

micromanage

A coaching client asked me this question last week:

I think I might be micromanaging my development director but I’m not sure. AND I’m not sure that is a bad thing. What does it look like? And is there ever a time when micromanaging is not my fault but rather a need to manage someone more closely?”

What a great question!

It’s so easy trap to fall into the “micromanage” trap, but especially as a nonprofit manager. At most nonprofits, everything feels critical. Sometimes, mistakes can even mean lives.

I think back to my first job out of college, distributing supplies to patients around the country who were on home dialysis. My job literally could mean life and death. This certainly wasn’t working customer service at Macy’s.

My boss made the seriousness of my job clear from day one and instilled in me the values of getting it right. But he also told me I would make mistakes and outlined the Plan B for sending the wrong materials or what to do if there was a trucking delay.

While I knew that lots of mistakes would mean brief employment, I was also given permission to make them along with a plan to contend with those I made.

It was a great job in that way.

So does that mean if you don’t give a staff member a ton of space to fail, you’re a micromanager? Well, not necessarily.

And if you are concerned you are a micromanager, I have some antidotes to suggest below…Continue Reading

Do You Need a Coach, a Mentor, or Both?

mentor

The life of a nonprofit leader can be quite lonely. I hear that all the time.

New board chairs are offered precious little in the way of direction and guidance. Executive Directors might use the word “lonely” as much as they use the word “overwhelmed.”

When I first arrived at GLAAD, I knew that I needed some real support if I was going to successfully transition from the for-profit sector. This new nonprofit world I had entered was strange!

What I really needed was a navigator, a guide for coaching for executives, someone to help me learn the ropes and provide some wisdom about what it meant to be a leader in a movement.

But you can’t always get what you want… or need. (Do you have a certain song stuck in your head now too?)

Hire a coach? Ha! There wasn’t enough money for new letterhead.

But I got very lucky. The choice just happened. A colleague E.D. with a long nonprofit history extended herself because she saw my success as important to the movement.

She offered support. Generous.

I took her up on it. Turned out to be one of the smartest moves I made.

Thanks to her, I learned the ropes and avoided falling on my face a few times. I was reminded that I was a leader. She was a sage navigator for me and not once did I label her my mentor. Not until someone asked me years later if I had one.

Fascinating.

Today I’d like to explore the distinction between a coach and a mentor and offer some advice on how to find a mentor.

It’s free and it’s way easier than you think.Continue Reading

How to Know When You Are Overdoing It

overdoing it

One of my early forays into therapy was in 1997 when I became the Executive Director of GLAAD. I remember my first day in my new therapist’s office, Therapy in Mission Valley and of course she asked, “Why are you here?” My answer came quickly. “I like to solve problems for people – I’m a helper – but I’ve gone overboard. Now I feel like I have to take care of all the gay people everywhere.” 

I bet many of you feel this way. Not necessarily about gay people. But about all the cats who haven’t been adopted, or the community center you know would benefit so many, or the marginalized groups you lobby for, or the communities of faith you support with your work.

It’s a lot of pressure. And as I have been known to say, a profound privilege.

I wish I had the antidote for the tremendous pressure and overwhelming responsibility.

I don’t. And I’m really sorry I don’t.

I know I have written posts and recorded podcasts about how to manage it but ok, I’ll say it. I am highly imperfect.

I pulled a fortune from a fortune cookie a few years back. I keep it with me. It kinda said it all. “The best advice to follow is the advice you give to others.”

My team will tell you I’m frequently overdoing it. I feel like so many people are counting on me. I remember thinking about all the gays and it would stress me out. Now staff and board leaders of 1.5 million nonprofits? OY. And that’s just here in the U.S.

It takes its toll. I work at the expense of my hobbies, my health, my relationships.

Crazy, right? People I don’t know take priority over my loved ones.

And so my wife and I (just the two of us) spent the last two weeks at a health boot camp. It wasn’t fun. And I am abundantly aware that only Type A workaholics select ‘vacations’ of this sort. Well, and also folks whose health is at risk. My wife and I check both boxes.

We reset our health. We ate without salt, sugar and oil. We were up at 6:30 am daily. An hour of cardio, an hour of strength training, an hour of yoga and then lectures about what happens to your body with age, with stress.

I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned. Few folks will have the privilege of spending two weeks as we did but I can share the lessons. Some of them are personal – most of these unflattering. Some more global – educational and hopefully helpful.

And while I write about these lessons from my own perspective (female of a certain age) they apply to all of us.Continue Reading