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Nonprofit leadership and self care

5 Easy-to-do Self-care Activities for Busy Nonprofit Leaders

for executive directors time management work relationships Oct 19, 2022

This article stresses the importance of self-care for busy nonprofit leaders who are working sixty-hour-plus workweeks, have no time to tend to personal needs, and want to spend more time with family and friends.  Although there may seem like no way to do it, you must set aside time to take care of yourself.

Working relentlessly produces great short-term gains, but the long-term results are less than optimal. You get weary, the job becomes a chore, and you lose your zest for the job. Taking time to be away from the job helps you maintain your fervor and sanity amidst the chaos of being an executive director.

Easy-to-do Self-care Strategies for Nonprofit Leaders

So often we put a priority on meeting other people’s needs and get so caught up in making sure they are all right, that we neglect ourselves and making sure we are all right. We forget about tending to self-care.

Self-care is anything you do to revitalize, escape the daily grind, forget the demands on your time, and relax. And there are easy-to-implement ways to maintain control over your time such that you have time to indulge in personal pursuits.

Relax Your Attitude

As an executive director, you set the tone for your agency. A more positive, refreshed, relaxed environment will make for positive experiences both in the office and the boardroom. Positive staff and board experiences improve overall agency morale. Happier staff and board members communicate more positively with volunteers and donors. Repeated positive interactions with contributors lead to greater engagement. Greater volunteer and donor engagement translate into higher contributions and improved donor and volunteer retention. Which results in better fundraising results.

Sometimes, we just need to give ourselves permission to take time to care for ourselves and engage in self-care. For example, it’s okay to occasionally take a long lunch with a friend rather than always working through it or only having business lunches. It’s okay to get your hair cut on work time, especially if you’ve just worked all evening. It’s okay to take a long weekend and spend it with friends.

If you want your organization to be balanced, you must be balanced. For employees to feel free to take care of themselves, you need to set the example. If taking care of your employees is important to you, so taking care of yourself must be a priority.

Calendar Down Time

Calendar time away from the office and its pressures. Schedule time in your day to attend personal social events and other rejuvenating activities. Calendar time to attend family outings. Make appointments that address personal needs. You will function better at your job if you schedule time for you. As a result, your agency will be better off too.

Take Time Off

One self-care activity is taking time off. Most of us go on vacation, just not long enough. Yor we’re still available and never really get away from the pressures of the job. If we’re smart, when we do go away, we make ourselves inaccessible, except for a true emergency. When I was an executive director, this meant setting up an emergency communication chain, instructing my colleagues to contact me only in case of a disaster.

Maintain Personal Relationships

We are social beings. We need people who know and love us and accept us unconditionally. If you are a workaholic, you may try to get these needs met through your professional relationships.

But work is not the best place to find friendship and intimacy. Work relationships are permeated by organizational priorities. If there is conflict between an organizational priority and a personal relationship, the organization generally comes first. It’s a good idea to keep your personal life separate from your work life.

Unfortunately, many executive directors have a hard time creating this separation. With so many needs to be met, it’s hard to find time for movies, dinner parties, community clubs, or any social outing.

But finding time for friends and family is crucial. Who else knows me intimately and loves me unconditionally? ­Your family and close friends couldn’t care less about your work, except how it affects your well-being. It is crucial to nurture relationships with people who have nothing to do with your job.

The old adage, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” is true. Without deep personal relationships, you will end your career with terrific professional accolades and absolutely no one to share them with. Accolades fade; solid relationships endure. It pays big dividends to give friends and family time and attention.

Find an Accountability Buddy

If you’re like me, you start out with the greatest intentions and do well for a while, then old habits start to kick in. A crisis happens and my instinct is to deal with it immediately. And then something else happens and I tend to it. Pretty soon, my day is all work and no play again and my husband is complaining he never sees me.

To counteract my natural tendencies, one of the things I hired an executive coach to do was hold me accountable for taking time off. When we met, I instructed her to ask about my personal endeavors, making sure I scheduled them and followed through. She was my paid accountability buddy.

I highly recommend that you find your own accountability buddy. It doesn’t have to be a paid professional. It can be a mentor or good friend. It can even be your spouse or partner. Just get one. At least at the beginning, when you are just learning, and during times of stress when you are most likely to fall into old habits. Change is hard. It’s okay to rely on other people to help you through it. In fact, reaching out for support is another example of self-care.

Find Time for Self-care

Do whatever it takes to find time for yourself and stick to your plans. Develop relationships that will endure long after your have a job. Be inaccessible for a while. Let your staff know it is okay to take time off and rejuvenate. Model the behavior you want them to emulate. Stop working the sixty-hour-plus workweeks, not tending to personal needs. Relax your attitude, calendar down time, take time off, and spend time with friends. You and your nonprofit will be better off for it. 

Alleviate Stress

Often, the most stressful relationships you navigate as an executive director are board member relationships. Take care of yourself and reduce your stress by finding and keeping good board members. Get the tools you need to recruit the board members you want, including a sample job description, interview questions, and recruitment packet, in my new book The ROI Mindset: How to Raise More Money with the Budget You Have found by clicking here.

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