“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Yep, for sure.  And for most nonprofit organizations, it’s also the craziest.  End-year-campaigns, special events, meetings with donors who left things to the last minute…  It’s ALL good.  But it also takes a ton of time.

On top of all of this, it’s also the fiscal year end for a number of nonprofits, which means year-end times two!  Regardless of which situation you are in, it’s pretty certain that everyone in your shop is working really hard.  That certainly makes things exciting, but it also sends up the warning flare about potential burnout.

With such a high percentage of all donations coming in during the last three months of the year (and the last month, let alone the last week), it’s absolutely important to keep focused and make the most of the opportunity.  Whether we like it or not, donors sometimes DO wait until the end of the year to act.  And we absolutely want to be ready to accept and acknowledge their generous gifts.  As a nonprofit manager, you should be planning for how to handle this influx the best.

At the same time, that nasty issue of burnout is very real.  With so many friends working in the sector, I see both the year-end excitement and the year-end dread building as we head into the holiday season.  I see them turning down invitations to holiday lunches and parties because they “simply have too much to do.”  I see them feeling guilty about taking the time to go to their children’s school performances because it “puts them behind too much.”  And this, people, is where I draw the line.

You, as nonprofit leaders, can help by doing some very simple things to help keep work and life in perspective.  What I’m talking about is giving your staff — who are the best gift of all to any nonprofit (what would we do without dedicated people after all) — your appreciation.  Begin by:

Acknowledge.

Acknowledging the very fact that the workload this time of year is huge. Being open and honest about it, versus just going heads down and plowing through, is important.

Be flexible.

Being flexible, understanding that each person on your team has just as much going on outside of work, with their family and friends, as inside.  Talk to your people, and determine what matters to them.  Is it being off several mornings to participate in activities at their children’s school?  Is it leaving early to go to a party or a special service or a holiday concert?  Figuring out what’s important to each person, and then flexing the schedule to accommodate these activities, will build incredible goodwill.  In the end, you’ll find out that everyone wants and needs something different – your fear of having everyone out on the same day isn’t likely to happen.

Celebrate.

Celebrate as a team.  No matter how busy you are or what deadlines you’re under, make sure you put time aside for some fun.  Give the team a breather, even if it’s a short one.  Be genuine in your thanks for their hard work, and make whatever you do fun (fun is far more important than expensive).

And, finally, you can work against burnout and build loyalty with your people by making sure, as things slow down, that they get the time off they need.  That they relax, refresh, and build their energy back up for the next big challenge.  People are your greatest gift of all.  Take care of them this holiday season.  You won’t regret it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Hutchisson is the vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud, headquartered in Charleston, SC.  She is responsible for the company’s global corporate citizenship efforts, a role that allows her to leverage her 20+ years of experience of working with nonprofit partners.  She is a member of the board of directors for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International, the Giving Institute (producers of Giving USA), and the Coastal Community Foundation.  She is also a Past President of the AFP SC Lowcountry chapter. Rachel is a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she is a Renaissance Weekend participant and was the recipient of the Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Influential Women in Business Rising Star Award.  Rachel is an avid soccer fan and spends far too much time driving to remote parts of the state to watch her children play.  Connect with Rachel on Twitter at @RachelHutchssn or on LinkedIn.

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