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The Importance of Self-Care for Nonprofit Leaders

Guest blog post by Shelley Sharp, Connect For More Consulting Associate

Traveling with a friend, I recently had the opportunity to reflect on the tremendous amount of burnout in nonprofit organizations. As a recently retired nonprofit executive, I lived it – but was still surprised at the amount of burnout and the strategies to survive it that are really out there.

To be sure, there are MANY reasons for this growing epidemic of fatigue – the challenges faced by mission work, fundraising, staff retention, and regulations are only just a few. That said the one reason almost every nonprofit leader is truly a personal one – their own personal lack of self-care.

With the balancing act of the needs of clients, board members, volunteers, staff and funders to be met, nonprofit leaders rarely (if ever) put themselves first. And yet… without taking time to focus on their own well-being, these leaders are running the risk of killing themselves in pursuit of helping others.

The beginning of the calendar year is a great time to begin focusing on self-care. Many of us are already spending time goal setting and determining priorities for the New Year that often include exercise and eating “right”. Why not include self-care as part of your resolutions this year?

I recently spent a few days at a wellness retreat to jumpstart my own self-care practice. After many years of sitting in front of a computer, I knew I needed to start focusing on my overall flexibility and especially mobility in my hips. The retreat offered many sessions for stretching, yoga, foam rolling and more and I was determined to try every type of class and find what works best for me.  Below are a few insights I had along the way that are helping engage my self-care resolutions.

Schedule Self-Care Time.

A fresh new calendar is a perfect canvas to create new routines by scheduling self-care. Your priorities are what you make time for, so add time blocks (10, 15, 30, 60 minutes) for stretching, meal prep, reading, or creating if those are important to you. Think about how you would fill in the blank: “I wish I could___________” and then do it!

Find Your Fit.

Are you on the phone all day and crave quiet time? Try a yoga or art class. Or are you on the computer all day and crave connectedness? Check out a makerspace or start a neighborhood walking group. Think about what YOU need most. Self-awareness of your unique and specific needs will help determine your self-care practice.   Reward yourself with time to slow the pace, or be creative, or try a new type of workout. And remember: Just because your officemate loves Pilates or CrossFit or Running… doesn’t mean you will too.

Explore a new interest (not related to your nonprofit work.)

My retreat was part summer camp, part Zen zone, part cooking school, and part fitness boot camp. I took part in many cardio classes and was very surprised to discover that my favorite was kickboxing.  There was such a sense of awareness and strength.  Shake up your current fitness routine by trying something new. If you are a runner, try hiking. If Zumba is your go-to fitness class, try cardio drumming.

Get outside, breathe & have some fun.

We also had the opportunity to visit a farm and learn about beekeeping, raising chickens and plant-based cooking.  I participated in daily nature hikes, slack lining and archery. The outdoor adventure activities are some of my favorites as they encourage personal growth as well as physical activity. Completing the 40-foot high aerial challenge course gives you a jolt of adrenaline and a strong boost to your confidence.

Disconnect from your Tech.

The retreat is also a digital device-free zone where you are encouraged to look up. It was refreshing to unplug and look at the sky, birds in the trees, and actual faces of those around me instead of looking at a phone or laptop.   Time spent with family and friends in a mindful and meaningful way is truly priceless and allowed me the personal time I needed to connect with others, and myself.

And so, I’m on to planning my next self-care adventure. Who’s in for surf camp??

Interested in learning more about self-care? Is burnout alive and well in your nonprofit? Visit the Happy Health Nonprofit website or buy the book which holds plenty of ideas on self-care for those serving the social sector.

In what ways are you making self-care part of your personal & professional goals? If you’re not sure where to start or want an accountability partner, we’d love to help! Visit the resources part of our website to download a free template for your very own self-care plan or contact us today.

Shelley SharpAbout the Author: Shelley Sharp is a Training & Consulting associate with Connect for More who facilitates strategic planning and board retreats, provides guidance for board governance and marketing strategies, and serves as an interim chief executive for nonprofit organizations. Shelley earned her M.B.A. from George Washington University where she focused on strategic planning and international marketing and is the former CEO of the Ryan Nece Foundation. In addition, Shelley is a Certified Volunteer Manager and volunteers her time with the University of Tampa and Autism Speaks. For more information on Shelley and her work with Connect For More, please visit our website, follow us on Twitter (@ConnectForMore) or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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