Service Above Self Care

The concept of self-care is all the rage these days.


I was recently interviewed on a podcast where the discussion regarding the great resignation within the nonprofit industry turned from “what was currently happening” to “how do we fix it?” Folks who are really great fundraisers and wonderful program directors are throwing up their hands in frustration and walking away for organizations they love…because what they adore is making them miserable.


The old guard in the nonprofit sector seem to roll their eyes and mutter “Buck up buttercup!”


Let’s make one thing clear: Our current generation of fundraisers and philanthropy leaders aren’t getting soft.


The world we work and live in is getting harder.


We know too much. The noise is too loud. The information is too abundant. And as much as we need to understand things in order too have a robust catalog of conversation starters and relatable anecdotes for a diverse group of donors we are connecting with is important…holy crap is this exhausting.


A lot of organizations have “Service Above Self” as one of their core values. Employees are seemingly expected to give more than they get, and put more energy into those our mission helps than on our own growth.


Let’s all agree to knock that off, shall we?


“The way we’ve always done it” has been understanding that we work in a job sector that doesn’t pay as well as for-profit entities, but we still do it because we’re inspired, dedicated to helping others and just general do-gooders who care more about impact than making money.


I’ve yet to meet a mortgage company that takes “tickets to heaven” as payment.


I’ve yet to see a grocery store have a “you work at a nonprofit here’s 40% off” discount at checkout.


I’ve yet to see hospitals wave medical bills because “you’re out there helping others.”


Our acceptance of lower pay, higher stress, unreasonable expectations, and ever moving targets and goals should probably be retired from our nonprofit playbook.


Because you can’t do good if you don’t feel good about what you’re doing. Period.


If more effort goes into your work at your nonprofit than you put into yourself, we’ve got issues, and your leadership team needs to acknowledge and address it. Now.


Wondering how your Board, Executive Director or CEO can help curate an environment where employees are mentally healthy enough to be their best self to be awesome to all we serve?


I got you.


Here are a few ways to rock a more balanced office and organization to do more good while feeling good:


1. Results Only Work Environment


One of the best books I’ve ever read – and one of the only business books you can ACTUALLY implement at your organization without utter chaos and mortgaging all your homes to pay for it – is “Work Sucks & How to Fix It.” Written WAY before the pandemic forced us to be nimble and strategic about at-home-employment, it speaks of anyone working from anywhere at anytime…as long as the work is done, and done well. All you need is well defined and agreed upon benchmarks. Everyone is held accountable to them. Therefore no 9-5, five-day-a-week work is needed.


One of the things we value more than ever now, is time and flexibility. “Getting back to the office” is something we all dread in most cases, and frankly, no one really should be at a desk to be a great fundraiser. The most important thing to remember, is as a leader, you need to be EXTRA communicative about what expectations are, what employees need as support, and how you can motivate without creepily peering over a cubicle and asking how the weekend was.


Benchmarks accomplished? Good. Now get that massage or take that nap. You do better well rested anyway.


2. Give Everyone a Damn Raise


Ok Boards. Time to have a quick coming-to-Jesus convo, and I’ll keep it short:


Pay Your Employees Better.


Because there are folks that will, and you don’t have the time, energy or effort to find, hire, and train the talent that will leave because of a few extra dollars you decided was too much.


Paying nonprofit leaders and fundraisers more, is at it’s core, a mindset issue. If you think of salaries as an expense instead of an investment in what “could be” for your organization, you’re doomed to turnover rates that are hideous. Think about all the donors in your database that have to meet yet ANOTHER person who wants to “get to know them.” It surely can’t be worth the cost to re-set relationships with some of your most ardent supporters who have the potential to 10x the salary investment of a great philanthropy leaders by not investing in your people, right!?


Pay your awesome staff what they are worth, because money talks. And what it says about you not investing top dollar for your top talent and letting them walk is like shouting from the rooftops to your supporters “we don’t believe in our story or mission enough.”


Write the damn check.


3. Niche Down & Ramp Up


You know what’s really difficult? Telling 80 different stories for the 80 different programs and services stresses your fundraising folks out and confuses your donors.


Like your own personal life – you’re trying to do too much, trying to hard to impress too many people, and not staying in your zone of genius. Our fundraising brains aren’t built to store that much information in them and remember all the nooks and cranny’s of details to use in casual conversations with potential and current supporters.


Pro tip: Niche down and ask the question “At our core – what do we do and how do we make positive impact in our community.


That’s it.


You can elaborate all you want after someone asks you the question “tell me more” but your mental health will be drastically saved if you can rid yourself of the expectations of knowing EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING.


You don’t need to know everything about Legacy Giving. You don’t need to know everything about Tax Liabilities. You don’t need to know about National Trends of Other Industries.


Know enough about your own organization to be dangerous and use that extra space to fill with empathy, curiosity and enthusiasm to make for a much better conversational experience and de-stress your fundraising life.


If you are a nonprofit leader or board member – take some time to really think about how an over-worked and over-stressed fundraising crew or program team will work or represent your brand and mission.


It might behoove you to take a moment to emphasize the importance of your people first to ensure that you develop steps that keep your impact amazing.


And that might just require you to abandon the concept of Service Over Self.


You got this!


-Patrick