Friday, March 30, 2007

Burn Out


We all know it's happening right before it really kicks in, don't we?

We're chugging along, going about the multitude of tasks that occupy our daily lives (and entirely too often, our evening hours as well). Then suddenly we look up and realize it's not the Friday we'd thought it was, but just a Wednesday.

Or even a Monday.

We look up and suddenly we realize: I am one annoying phone call, one catty email, one form response decline letter away from throwing in the towel on this thing.

Fundraising is an industry of passion. I haven't met a lot of drones in this field: the vast majority of people are here because they have the right talents to do the job as well as the desire to get that job done.

Long hours, endless deadlines, unrelenting financial pressures... combine this with a heart full of passion, and it's a recipe for a fire inside the spirit.

A fire that can burn out what's actually driving us to be here.

I don't have a magic recipe for getting out of this situation (other than "hey, write a blog about it!"). But the following is usually helpful for me:

  • Take a mental health day. In the middle of the week, take a day off to do nothing related to work. Don't do chores or go to personal appointments, either. Just stay home - read, watch a movie, anything to get your mind off of work. Think of it as a mental massage.

  • Get out from behind the desk and volunteer. I have the luxury of working on the 2nd floor above a food pantry; when I'm burning out, I go downstairs, stock the shelves and talk to some of the most amazing people in the city. It always renews my spirit for this work.

  • Talk about what you're experiencing with people who understand. Since I often find it hard to discuss burnout with my coworkers (since it tends to devolve into a gripe session) or family (who already hear me complain enough), I have a number of other fundraisers I talk to.

I think that this last piece of advice is the most valuable. The best thing that you can do -- both for your career, as well as your organization's success -- is to get to know other people in this line of work. In Dallas, we are fortunate to have the Center for Nonprofit Management; they have a wonderful program called "The Leaders Circle" through which 6-8 development officers or executive directors get together to share best practices and counsel each other. I've been a member for a few years, and hope to continue participating for many years to come.

Fundraising is a difficult and tense business, but one in which experience is often a better asset than natural skill. In order for our field to remain strong, we need to work together to stop "burn out" (which I believe drives more people out of this line of work than even the allure of higher salaries in the corporate world or the freedom of the consulting industry).

Have a great weekend, everyone. I'll be in Houston visiting family -- hopefully to relax and return to Dallas rejuvenated!