I’ve been involved recently in several conversations with other nonprofit professionals on an important topic. For nonprofit people, balancing life and work is always an important topic.
But one conversation raised questions I think are important for all of us.
It came down to: what’s our individual responsibility to our organization’s cause? Or put another way, how much killing ourselves is too much and how much not enough?
Overworked and stressed employees are a huge problem in our sector. You can’t sustain work like that – so we lose the best people. And we are less productive – worn out, worn down people simply can’t perform the way they need to perform.
These problems have to be lifted from staff shoulders.
They need to be rolled uphill – to organization leaders, to board members, and to the public.
Most staff agree.
All. The. Guilt.
If you’re expected to do the work of 4 people, how much of the work can you really do? And if you can’t do it all, then people suffer. And you see it. How can you let that happen?
It’s a moral dilemma many of us have faced.
But I think there’s another side to this as well.
Who are we leaving out when we do it all ourselves?
We put our heads down, work harder, work smarter, sacrifice pay.
But we’re signaling to our bosses, our boards, our donors and funders that they’re not needed.
We unintentionally reduce their responsibility. Not for us and our personal choices. But for the problems our organizations are working on.
We also shut them out of experiences that would enrich their lives. Giving – of our time or money – makes people happy.
I believe we do have a responsibility to each other. We need to nurture that sense of caring in our communities and in society. Fundraising is one way we can do that. Seeking volunteers is another.
First, we have to accept that we cannot do this alone. Then we need to be clear that help is not only welcomed but urgently needed. And then invite other people to take a bit of the load.
We also have to accept that if they don’t respond, we can’t shoulder the guilt.
You may be a unicorn. But you’re not alone.
You can’t be. That’s not how this whole nonprofit thing is supposed to work.
I knew an ED once who refused to see her organization was not viable as she wanted to run it. Every need in the community had to become a new program.
But there was no time to build support for new ideas – or to sustain support for current programming. The only way to provide current services was to cut some programs and focus on fundraising. “But there are so many who need our help!” she said.
“And in five years, there will be no people getting your help” I answered. “Because the organization won’t be here anymore.”
We often tell donors (and volunteers) they’re needed. But if we’re getting it done without them – or without the funds needed to do the work – what’s the message?
Don’t worry – we got this.
Let’s work hard. Let’s work smart. Let’s take care of one another.
But let’s not be martyrs to our cause. Bring your passion and experience and heart. But respect your own boundaries. And make room for other people to help.
Need a little help with that?
My friend Sheena Greer has a free Healthy Boundaries Workbook you should grab.
And look for Beth Kanter’s book, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, coming in October!