Here’s the greatest secret

To have one, and not know what it is.

Have you ever felt like the mission will fall apart, or your nonprofit will fall apart, unless you give 110% EVERY SINGLE DAY?

That you work so hard and you can’t take a break to breathe, or eat, or not stay until 7pm?

Have you ever gotten sick from working too much?

Do you ever sit there and just think, “I AM SO EXHAUSTED! BUT THE WORK IS NOT DONE!”

I used to feel this way.

What’s behind this?

Well, several things.

ONE is the Culture of Overwork aka THE FUNDRAISING TREADMILL.(Mary Cahalane has also written about this, Your Work or Your Life (Why do you have to choose?)) This is related to the Hedonic Treadmill. That means ok, you got that big grant, and now your boss/the board expects more of you. And instead of patting you on the back and encouraging you to take a week off, you are encouraged to raise EVEN MORE next year, with the SAME few resources! This is the drawback of performing miracles under pressure. They expect you to do it again and again and perform better and better. And you do it, or try to, because you have a reputation to uphold, and you don’t want to get fired. But underneath you wonder… why did nothing change when I made my goal? Or why did they set the bar even HIGHER next year? Where’s my raise? My extra money for a new database? Or a part time staff person? Well, because…

TWO is a Culture of Destitution.  What is a culture of destitution? It means everyone is used to making so little, it’s crab bucket. If you want to make more, other people will say “ha ha We ALL WISH WE COULD MAKE MORE!” But somehow it’s impossible to do a cost of living wage increase, or get a performance review that includes a slightly better title or more vacation time. It’s like we work at a nonprofit, so we’re supposed to be poor. Because… puritanism! Yes, that’s right. America was founded by cult members who thought that purity was next to godliness, and charity should not be repaid with money. That would not be godly. Because money is the root of all evil! According to the bible. So that’s what’s underneath people thinking you should make very little money per hour. Which doesn’t seem fair, to me! Does it seem fair, to you?

THREE is Superjobs.  What is a superjob? It’s when you’re the grantwriter, the volunteer recruiter and manager, the events director, the entire communications department and also the major gifts officer. It’s trying to put 3-6 people’s jobs onto one person. And being surprised when they fail at being more than one person! And firing them! And starting all over again with the same unreasonable expectations! And being surprised when ANOTHER fundraising person leaves after 6-12 months! Well, who’s the common denominator here? That’s right. YOUR unrealistic job expectations. Here’s what you stand to gain if people stay.

FOUR is PRECARIOUS WORK (hello At Will Work Environment and the Entreprecariat). What is precarious work? Well, it’s when you never know if you will be fired for no reason at all. That’s at will work. But also when you have a part time job but never a full time job because they can’t afford benefits for you. Or when you’re secretly doing a full time job but they’re only paying you for part time. And you just don’t report the hours you work. Which is illegal, and they’re stealing your wages, by the way. Here’s how to find a job you will totally love.

FIVE is the HERO CHILD syndrome. What is Hero child syndrome? It’s when you hear about the problems of the world, and you think, OK I have to fix that too! It seems that this last year has been one long string of problem after problem after problem. And we have watched friends, family and strangers leap on every new terrible thing, and get super upset about it.  So this relentless string of problems in the news cycle has been really good for fundraising for our causes, for example, the ACLU. Maybe that addiction to the growing madness in the news even been us some of the time. But eventually, we do have to draw back and say, OK I need to what I can with where I am.

But even then you can see the news cycle and when you OVERCOMMIT yourself to doing work for your nonprofit, that is… actually violence against yourself.

Thomas Merton says, “The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace.” You are not a nonprofit robot. Here’s how you can get out of a workaholic rut.

A lot of us fundraisers and nonprofit leaders have this.

It’s quite common.

You have this idea that ONLY YOU can save the world or the cause

That it will all fall apart without you.

You have this noble gleam in your eye. Like your effort is worth more than other people’s. That you and you alone can do this work. And do it PROPERLY.


BUT this is not just a nonprofit worker thing.

This is a nonprofit female leader thing.

OH REALLY? WHY? You ask.

Well, Michelle Obama said, “Women love their sons, but they raise their daughters.” That means that often girls get more consequences for their actions, at a younger age, than boys do. And sometimes boys get no consequences at all. This hurts them later in life, of course.

So when girls get more consequences, they get more nervous about making things PERFECT. And they worry that they are not good enough. And society reinforces this by giving women fewer chances to make mistakes, and jumping on them for every little thing. Like their fashion. Or perhaps having TOO MUCH nonprofit experience and no MBA?

Women and Workaholism-What Can You Do? Read On.

Want to start to change the culture at your nonprofit?

Come to the Fundraising Career Conference, online, this April 2, 4 and 6 2018.

We can help.

Learn more orRegister for the Fundraising Career Conference