Burnout at a Nonprofit and What to Do About It With Bethany Planton and Johna Rodgers. Nonprofit MBA 7.17

Burnout is one of the major issues faced in the nonprofit sector. However, it can be managed and prevented with the right strategies. You can reduce burnout at a nonprofit by promoting a healthy work-life balance, providing adequate resources, encouraging open communication, and recognizing efforts. With the above strategies, your nonprofit can create a more supportive and sustainable work environment. Also, managers, employees, and volunteers all have a role to play in combating burnout and ensuring the well-being of the entire organization. In today’s podcast, Bethany Planton and Johna Rodgers from HealthyGrantPro and Stephen Halasnik from Financing Solutions discuss burnout at a nonprofit and what to do about It.

Burnout at a Nonprofit

Burnout is a common yet not-discussed-enough issue that affects many professionals across various fields, but it can be especially prevalent in the nonprofit sector. A survey done by the networks of the National Council of Nonprofits in April 2023, shows that over 50% of nonprofit staff suffer burnout in the United States. This makes it the third-highest barrier to recruiting and retaining nonprofit staff after poor funding and salary competition.

Despite being driven by a passion for their cause, nonprofit workers often face unique challenges that can lead to high levels of stress and burnout. One can trace some of these challenges to inadequate funding leading to poor staffing and consequently, excessive workload. So, it is important to address burnout not only for the well-being of employees and volunteers but also for the overall health and sustainability of the organization. One way to do this is to prioritize yourself and manage stress so you can keep up with your mission. Remember, saving the world is a marathon and not a sprint. In other words, you must be alive, healthy, and strong to achieve your goal.

In this article, we’ll discuss the causes, signs, impact, and how to avoid burnout in your nonprofit sector.

What is Burnout? 

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by protracted and excessive stress. Hence, it happens when you feel continuously overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Over time, this chronic stress can lead to a sense of decreased achievement and loss of personal identity. 

How Do You Recognize Burnout?

Some key signs and symptoms point to burnout. When you notice any of these pointers, know it is time to take some time off, talk to your colleagues or employer, and take good care of yourself. These include:

  • Exhaustion: Continuous feeling physically and emotionally depleted.
  • Detachment: You develop a sense of cynicism and emotional distance from work.
  • Ineffectiveness: You begin to struggle with decreased performance and productivity.

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

Burnout at a nonprofit can manifest with physical, emotional, and behavioral signs and symptoms.

Physical Signs and Symptoms

Burnout can manifest physically, most times presenting symptoms that are easy to overlook. These may include:

  • Chronic fatigue and exhaustion
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Changes in sleep patterns or insomnia

Emotional Signs and Symptoms

Emotionally, burnout can lead to a range of symptoms that affect one’s mental health and well-being:

  • Increased cynicism or detachment from work
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Irritability and mood swings

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms

Behaviorally, burnout can impact job performance and interactions with others:

  • Decreased productivity and performance
  • Withdrawal from responsibilities and colleagues
  • Procrastination and increased time off work

What are the Challenges That Nonprofit Workers Face?

Nonprofit workers are usually very passionate about their jobs, which could predispose them to burnout. The mission-driven nature of nonprofit organizations means employees and volunteers frequently go above and beyond to make a difference. Nevertheless, this dedication often comes at a cost- a higher burnout rate in the nonprofit setting. Some peculiar challenges nonprofit workers face include limited resources, high emotional demands, and the pressure to achieve ambitious goals with minimal support.

Causes of Burnout at a Nonprofit

Following the unique nature of nonprofit organizations, several factors can contribute to a high burnout rate. Some of these factors are as follows:

High Workload and Unrealistic Expectations

It is general knowledge that nonprofit organizations often operate with limited staff and resources, leading to high workloads and unrealistic expectations. So, staff and volunteers may find themselves juggling multiple roles and responsibilities, leaving little time for rest and recovery. This constant pressure and prolonged stress can quickly lead to burnout if not managed properly.

Emotional Demands of Nonprofit Work

Being a nonprofit staff or volunteer usually involves dealing with sensitive and emotionally charged issues. This is because you are either supporting vulnerable populations, advocating for social change, or responding to crises. Whichever be the case, the emotional demands of the job can be overwhelming. Therefore, you must understand that continuous exposure to trauma and suffering can take a toll on one’s mental health, contributing to burnout in a nonprofit.

Inadequate Resources and Support

Amidst the challenges of nonprofits, budget constraints, and poor funding are usually the most common challenges, resulting in a lack of resources and support for their staff. This ultimately leads to insufficient training, inadequate tools, and a shortage of personnel, all of which can hinder employees’ ability to perform their jobs effectively. Moreover, when workers feel unsupported and ill-equipped, burnout becomes a significant risk.

Poor Recognition and Reward

Recognition and reward are important factors for maintaining motivation and job satisfaction. However, in the nonprofit sector, staff and volunteers may sometimes feel their hard work goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Poor acknowledgment of their efforts can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment, further exacerbating burnout at a nonprofit.

Impact of Burnout at a Nonprofit

On Individual Health and Well-being

Burnout at a nonprofit can severely affect an individual’s health and well-being if left unchecked. Chronic stress can lead to various health issues, such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, and a weakened immune system. Additionally, burnout can erode self-esteem and lead to a sense of isolation, making it difficult for individuals to engage in and enjoy activities outside of work.

On Team Dynamics and Morale

Within a team, burnout can create a ripple effect that impacts overall dynamics and morale. For instance, when one team member experiences burnout, it can lead to increased tension and conflict among colleagues. Some team members may feel demotivated or resentful if they perceive that others are not pulling their weight, further straining relationships and collaboration.

On Organizational Effectiveness and Sustainability

In the organization, burnout can undermine effectiveness and sustainability. High turnover rates as a result of burnout can lead to a loss of institutional knowledge and continuity. Additionally, the cost of recruiting and training new staff can strain already limited resources. Finally, burnout at a nonprofit also reduces overall productivity and creativity, making it difficult for nonprofits to achieve their missions and goals.

What to Do About Burnout at a Nonprofit

Promote a Healthy Work-life Balance

One way to check burnout at a nonprofit is by encouraging employees and volunteers to maintain a healthy work-life balance. You can achieve this by setting clear boundaries around work hours, encouraging regular breaks, and promoting the use of vacation time. You as manager should lead by example and respect these boundaries, demonstrating that rest and rejuvenation are valued.

Provide Adequate Resources and Support

You must ensure that staff have the necessary resources and support to perform their jobs effectively. This includes providing adequate funding, proper training, access to necessary tools and equipment, and maintaining manageable workloads. Hence, to reduce burnout at a nonprofit, organizations should strive to secure sufficient funding and resources to support their teams adequately.

Create an Atmosphere for Open Communication and Feedback

Encouraging your staff and volunteers to feel free to communicate and give feedback can help identify and address burnout early. Again, regular check-ins, team meetings, and anonymous surveys can provide valuable insights into employee well-being and organizational challenges. As a manager, listen actively and take appropriate action to address concerns raised by their staff.

Offer Professional Development and Training

Investing in professional development and training opportunities has a way of helping prevent burnout by keeping employees engaged and motivated. When you organize frequent workshops, courses, and conferences, it will help staff develop necessary skills, stay current with industry trends, and feel more competent and confident in their roles. Thus, making them proficient enough to carry out their routine duties swiftly.

Recognize and Reward Efforts

According to Dale Carnegie, people work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise, and rewards. In nonprofits, most staff and volunteers are not solely after money but rather for recognition and rewards. Their highest form of motivation is knowing that people recognize the work they are doing for the community. Therefore, regular recognition and reward can go a long way in preventing burnout at a nonprofit. You can do this through formal recognition programs, awards, and simple acts of appreciation, such as thank-you notes or shout-outs during meetings.

Role of Management in Preventing Burnout

Leading by Example

When it comes to fighting burnout at a nonprofit, management has a major role to play by setting the tone for the organization. As a nonprofit leader, model healthy behaviors, such as maintaining a work-life balance, managing stress effectively, and prioritizing self-care. When you demonstrate these practices, you are encouraging the teams to do the same.

Creating a Supportive Work Environment

Managers should aim to establish a work environment that is supportive and inclusive, where employees feel valued and listened to. This involves nurturing an atmosphere of regard, encouraging collaboration, and offering chances for staff to bond and form connections. Supportive environments can effectively reduce the effects of stress and stave off burnout at a nonprofit.

Implementing Policies that Support Employee Well-being

Nonprofit organizations should implement policies and practices that support employee well-being. It can range from flexible work arrangements to mental health resources, and wellness programs. Prioritizing employee health and well-being would reduce burnout at a nonprofit thereby creating a more sustainable and resilient workforce.

Role of Employees and Volunteers in Combating Burnout

Self-care and Personal Boundaries

As an employee or volunteer, you must learn how to practice self-care in other to prevent burnout. You can achieve this by prioritizing yourself first because you ought to be healthy to save the world. Hence,  engage in regular physical activity, maintain a healthy diet, and get enough sleep, this way you will reduce the risk of burnout. Also, ensure to set boundaries around work and personal time in other to maintain a balance and prevent overwork.

Seeking Support When Needed

It’s important you recognize when you need support and seek it out. Normalize talking to your supervisor, seeking help from a mental health professional, or reaching out to friends and family when you notice any of the early signs of burnout. By acknowledging the need for help and taking action, individuals can prevent burnout at a nonprofit from escalating.

Being Proactive in Managing Workload

You should take a proactive approach to managing your workload. Learn to prioritize tasks, delegate when possible, and communicate openly with supervisors about capacity and challenges. Being proactive can help prevent overwhelm and maintain a manageable workload.

About Our Guests, Bethany Planton and Johna Rodgers From HealthyGrantPro

Bethany Planton, GPC, is the Founder and CEO of bmpconsulting, a capacity-building firm established in September 2016. Bethany helps nonprofit leaders and grant professionals build and maintain strategic and sustainable nonprofits AND have fun along the way.

For 25+ years, Johna Rodgers, GPC, has worked with clients and employers to bring more than $300 million to help those who need it most. Johna is a 2021 GPA Class of Distinguished Fellows inductee and the immediate past GPA president. She is also an Approved GPA Trainer and an original GPC, receiving certification in 2008.

The Healthy Grant Pro Team has authored two seminal works on burnout in the grants profession, published in Volumes 18 and 19 of the Journal of the Grant Professionals Association.

Learn About Stephen Halasnik

Stephen Halasnik co-founded Financing Solutions, the leading provider of lines of credit for nonprofits and church financing. The credit line program for nonprofits & churches is fast, easy, inexpensive, and costs nothing to set up, making it a great backup plan when cash flow is temporarily down. Mr. Halasnik is also the host of the popular, Nonprofit MBA Podcast. The podcast brings experts to discuss fundraisingnonprofit grantsexecutive director leadershipnonprofit boards, and other important topics. You can learn more about the nonprofit line of credit program here or call 862-207-4118.