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Surviving Nonprofit Burnout: Effective Tips for Resilience

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Ever felt like you're running on empty, yet the finish line seems miles away? Welcome to 'nonprofit burnout'. It's a place where passion meets exhaustion and dedication teeters on despair.

Doesn't sound too fun, right?

Elaine, from Seinfeld, with her head in her hands looking like she's suffering from nonprofit burnout.

The world of nonprofits is filled with mission-driven warriors committed to making a difference. But sometimes, these noble intentions can lead down an unintended path - one that's marked by stress, fatigue and yes...burnout.

This isn’t just another tale of woe but rather your survival guide in navigating this tricky terrain. You'll uncover why burnout hits harder in the nonprofit sector; how job fit and team dynamics play into it; what COVID-19 did to tip the scales; how community helps ease its grip; plus practical tips for battling nonprofit burnout head-on.

Table of Contents:

  1. Understanding nonprofit burnout
  2. The role of job fit and team dynamics in burnout
  3. Covid-19 and nonprofit burnout
  4. The role of community in managing burnout
  5. Practical tips for managing nonprofit burnout
  6. Conclusion

Understanding nonprofit burnout

Burnout is a state of being completely drained emotionally, physically, and mentally due to over-stress. It's marked by feelings of apathy or lack of caring—a dangerous space for anyone to be in but especially so for those working in the nonprofit sector. When it comes to burnout we also have to address stress.

“The reason why it's so critical to talk about stress when we talk about burnout is because burnout is caused by prolonged stress, meaning our bodies are physically responding to stressors.”
Kelsey Buell on Beyond the Donation episode 19

The definition and symptoms of burnout

Burnout creeps up on you slowly—it starts with minor frustration then escalates into chronic dissatisfaction before finally settling into indifference. In its worst form, burnout makes you question why you're even doing what you do. This condition affects more than half the population: at least 52% claim to feel burned out.

“At least 52% of people would raise their hand and claim I'm feeling burned out.”
Kelsey Buell on Beyond the Donation episode 19

Frequent symptoms include feeling overwhelmed or emotionally drained, lacking motivation to start tasks, and experiencing a decline in job performance due to cynicism about work duties—all these are warning signs that shouldn't be ignored because they could lead down a dark path toward complete disinterest.

Why nonprofits are susceptible to burnout

In the world of nonprofits where resources often fall short while expectations remain high—the recipe is perfect for burnout. The need to stretch every dollar means everyone wears multiple hats which can quickly turn from challenging, yet rewarding, experiences into an overwhelming burden leading straight toward burnout. This kind of constant pressure leads directly toward emotional fatigue—one key symptom pointing toward imminent burnout.

The role of job fit and team dynamics in burnout

Let's get real about burnout. Burnout is not simply a personal matter but involves the whole team and organization.

The impact of job misalignment on burnout

When your job duties don't align with your skills or values, it can result in stress and frustration. The constant experience of stress and frustration causes weariness and disappointment that, if unaddressed, lead to burnout.

A Gallup study found that employees who feel their talents aren't being used effectively are 15 times more likely to experience burnout. You don’t need to be Einstein to know that’s bad for morale.

The influence of team dynamics and culture on burnout

Culture isn't just about free snacks at work or fun office parties. A good work culture brings out the best in individual team members, encourages collaboration, and equips your team to do the work before them.

A toxic culture breeds toxicity within teams too. If teamwork makes the dream work then poor team dynamics could make everything feel like a nightmare. Constant conflict with colleagues or feeling unsupported by management amplifies stress levels significantly.

Research suggests that having trustful relationships with coworkers can reduce workplace tension, thus helping prevent this ugly monster called 'burnout'.

COVID-19 and nonprofit burnout

The COVID-19 pandemic made a big impact on nonprofits, with burnout levels rising higher than ever before. This isn't surprising given the sudden shift to remote work coupled with increased pressure to accomplish more, the stress of isolation, and uncertainty around the future.

Gallup's research found that the transition to remote work alone left many employees feeling overwhelmed and isolated, key contributors to burnout. But it doesn't stop there.

In addition, the World Economic Forum points out that because of this crisis, many nonprofits faced mounting demands for their services while dealing with reduced resources – a recipe for stress and fatigue among staff members.

Even though the days of chronic stress and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 are over for most people, we’re still settling into a post-pandemic world and working through the stress we collectively experienced.

The tipping point

Facing these circumstances head-on can push even the most resilient workers toward exhaustion. To meet growing needs in an uncertain world, teams had to put in longer hours under stressful conditions—factors that greatly increase the chances of experiencing burnout.

And now, our “new normal” still holds that same urgency and pressure to put in longer hours and work to meet an increase in demand for the nonprofit sector.

The remote work challenge

Suddenly having everyone work remotely wasn’t easy either. Adapting to new technologies and workflows quickly was crucial but not without its hitches.

"The initial excitement over Zoom meetings soon gave way as 'Zoom Fatigue' set in", said Lisa Thompson from New Hope Community Services.

So, while the pandemic may have accelerated certain trends in remote work and digital transformation, it has also exacerbated nonprofit burnout. We must be extra vigilant in safeguarding the welfare of our personnel and take steps to address this increasing problem.

The power of connection and community in managing burnout

Dealing with burnout doesn’t have to be a solo journey. A sense of connection and belonging is essential to moving through burnout and coming out the other side.

The role of community in burnout prevention

A sense of belonging, sharing experiences, and mutual support are just some benefits that communities offer. In fact, these connections can be instrumental when it comes to managing stress levels.

In this digital age, finding your tribe seems easier than ever before, but feeling a true connection is more difficult. There are countless online platforms for nonprofit professionals, where you can share struggles, victories, and advice with like-minded individuals.

The study group from Community hugging

Moreover, feeling understood helps us manage our emotional responses better - an essential step toward preventing burnout. Statistics indicate that connection and community play pivotal roles in mitigating burnout. Thus proving we're stronger together.

At the same time, the rise of remote work and the influence of social media can create barriers to forming deep, meaningful relationships.

Remote work offers flexibility and convenience, but it can also lead to a sense of isolation and a lack of face-to-face interaction with colleagues. This can hinder the development of close connections that often come from shared experiences and daily interactions in a physical workspace.

Social media, while providing a platform for communication, can sometimes create a false sense of connection. It's easy to mistake online interactions for genuine relationships, when in reality, they may lack the depth and authenticity that comes from spending quality time together in person.

To counter these challenges, it's important to actively seek out opportunities for meaningful connections. To strengthen bonds within your team or organization, consider initiating regular check-ins or creating safe spaces for open discussions on challenges faced by members. This might also involve making an effort to engage in activities you enjoy, joining clubs or groups with shared interests, or even taking the initiative to arrange virtual or in-person meetups with colleagues. Fostering such an environment not only boosts morale but also makes each member feel valued; another effective strategy against burnout.

Remember that building deep relationships takes time and effort, but the rewards in terms of emotional support, understanding, and shared experiences can be incredibly fulfilling.

Practical tips for managing nonprofit burnout

Burnout can feel like a heavy weight, but there are ways to lighten the load. Let's chat about some handy strategies to help you battle burnout.

“Society tells us that if we have a green smoothie or if we take a spa day every so often that one day is going to help us not be burned out. But the truth of the matter is we have to be implementing tiny habits every single day on a consistent basis in order to prevent us from getting to that point.”
Kelsey Buell on Beyond the Donation episode 19

Sensory experiences

woman back surrounded by green and brown grass looking out at nature instead of stressing about burnout at her nonprofit job
Photographer: Jamie Street | Source: Unsplash

Taking time out of your day for sensory experiences can be surprisingly therapeutic. Whether it’s taking a walk outside, listening to calming music, or enjoying an aromatic cup of tea - these small actions matter because they let us reconnect with our senses and take a break from stressors.

Practicing gratitude

Incorporating gratitude into your daily routine is another helpful strategy. Reflecting on what you’re thankful for might sound cliché, but it’s proven effective in shifting focus away from negativity and reducing stress levels.

Try jotting down three things you're grateful for each day before going to bed. Or, a personal favorite, is combining sensory experiences with gratitude. Starting the day with a hot cup of coffee, watching the sunrise, and actively saying, “I’m thankful for this moment” out loud helps start the day on a trajectory of peace and thankfulness.

Serving others

The act of serving others can also be a powerful antidote to burnout. When we’re exhausted, helping someone else might feel like the last thing that we have the capacity for. But, reaching out to others and helping them, takes out of our own stress and connects us with our community. When we lend help without expecting anything in return, we experience something called 'helper's high'. This feeling doesn't just make us happier; studies show that altruism boosts resilience too.

Altruism boosts resilience.

Breaking down goals

Another tip is breaking down goals into manageable tasks which helps combat feelings of overwhelm associated with big projects or deadlines. Instead of seeing one huge mountain ahead, consider chopping up the task into smaller hills – this makes progress easier and less daunting.

Peer networks

Peer networks are like life rafts in the stormy seas of burnout. Joining communities such as Nonprofit Leadership Alliance or Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN), can provide valuable insights from those who've walked a similar path.

Sharing experiences and feeling seen helps to relieve stress, generate solutions, and create a sense of belonging that combats feelings of isolation often linked to burnout.

Seek out support

four person holding each others waist at daytime
Group Photographer: Vonecia Carswell | Source: Unsplash

Don’t forget about seeking support when needed. Trusted individuals who care about you often want to lend their ear or give advice if asked.

If those feelings of apathy and despair are too overwhelming, there is professional support out there. It might feel daunting to find a professional who can help. Or maybe you’re feeling like you should be able to manage this on your own, but burnout can be incredibly difficult to recover from. There’s no shame in needing extra support during a difficult time.

Whether you’re seeking the help of friends or professionals, seeking support if you’re suffering from burnout reminds you that you’re not alone.


Burnout is a multi-faceted issue, encompassing physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. The nonprofit world is susceptible because you’re always doing so much with limited resources.

The importance of job fit can't be understated; it directly influences how you handle stress. Unhealthy team dynamics or toxic culture only add fuel to the fire.

In light of COVID-19, things got harder—but there’s a way forward!

Never underestimate the power of community. Connection helps alleviate burnout symptoms. And remember those practical tips: sensory experiences, gratitude practice... they all matter in keeping you resilient amidst challenges.

Are you feeling overwhelmed, juggling countless responsibilities in the nonprofit world? It's time to reclaim your focus and make a real impact where it matters most.

One way to help is to stop wearing too many hats! Using tools like DonorDock takes tasks off your plate, so you can concentrate on what truly matters – making a difference.

To hear more about tackling nonprofit burnout listen to Matt and Kelsey on Beyond the Donation episode 19

Elisha Ford
Content Writer
Written by
Elisha Ford
Content Writer

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