3 Leading Causes of Nonprofit Burnout and What You Can Do To Prevent Them

The Keela Team • Mar 31, 2020

Saving the world is exhausting, and many nonprofit workers, both senior and entry-level, are feeling the strain. 

With long hours and lack of funding, management can often feel helpless in what options are available to them and their teams.

While considering staff wellness can be viewed as a privilege of the corporate world, there are many strategies available to limit the nonprofit burnout rate and turnover that is common amongst community organizations. With new innovations available every day, taking care of your staff and ensuring a healthy work-life balance no longer needs to cost an arm and a leg!

Here are actionable ideas to prevent employee burnout in your workplace. 

Check in on your workplace health!

Use this burnout self-test to assess how you feel about your job and your experience at work. 

This will give an indication of whether burnout syndrome is at play.

1. Your Staffers Care So Much, It May Be Hurting Them 

Nonprofit employees are driven by passion. Passion for a cause and for the values embodied by the sector. 

But being passionate can be exhausting. And because working in the nonprofit sector has a direct impact on people’s lives and social justice, staff members tend to overwork themselves. 

In fact, this leads to employees working extremely long hours, receiving less than living wages, and the refusal to advocate for themselves or their working conditions. 

The nonprofit guilt is real, and while it’s important to encourage a healthy level of buy-in from your staff, the line lies in not abusing it. Overall, the nonprofit burnout rate is a symptom of the organization, not the personnel. 

Here are some ways to get your staffers to maintain productivity while taking care of themselves. 

Introduce a Lieu-Time Structure 

Mandating an 8-hour workday is a difficult process, and within your organization, there may be times of the year where overtime hours are a necessary evil. Galas, Fundraising Campaigns, or heavy programming seasons can quickly overwork your staff. 

The issue at hand is two-fold. The organization may not be able to support an overtime pay structure, and employees may not even request it because they feel guilty about not doing enough. 

Implementing a clear lieu-time structure can help reduce such overwhelming feelings. 

With this structure, staff can bank overtime hours to use as time off at a later date. This helps staff to feel that their overtime hours are appreciated while alleviating the feeling of guilt, so employees can take time for themselves at a later date.

Have a strict sick time policy 

We all know the employee, the one who gives 110% all day every day and would rather push through being sick than taking a day off. 

While this may benefit your team’s workload in the short term, your employee may be susceptible to develop long term health issues or chronic fatigue. 

To make your employees feel safe and protected when they need time away from work, you need a strict sick time policy. 

By holding everyone to the same standard, you allow employees the necessary time to heal while setting a baseline sentiment that your organization cares for the health and wellbeing of its staff members. 

Consider a Living Wage Policy

Organizations that don’t supply their staff with living wages can expect a high level of turn over, not because the staff members aren’t committed, but because it is a privilege to be able to work for less than a living wage. 

Nonprofit employees have families, loans, and rent to worry about. And having to actively increase their debt to continue to work is not sustainable for them. 

High turnover rates mean more time spent training new people, more money spent covering their absences, and potentially expensive recruiting fees to find someone qualified for the position. All in, you can expect to spend an extra 20% of the position’s base salary to cover turnover costs, and those costs can quickly compound across multiple positions.

By paying employees a wage allowing them to cover their expenses and living costs, you empower them to settle into their roles and careers. Consider these costs part of investing in a renewable, long term structure, rather than a quick-fix. 

2. Your Working Environment May Be Burning Employees Out

In our current employment climate, you cannot get away from the phrase “Self-Care”. Many employees feel this is an unfair expectation, as they just can’t find the time or access the resources they need to take care of themselves properly. 

From mounting costs associated with low wages, the pressure to work long hours, and limited funds to even access necessary self-care options, employers need to take an active role in ensuring staff wellness. 

This doesn’t mean shelling out big bucks for yoga classes, team workouts, or subsidized wellness spending. It can simply translate into a conscious effort within your workplace to place wellness as a value, not a liability.

Check in on your workplace health!

Use this burnout self-test to assess how you feel about your job and your experience at work. 
This will give an indication of whether burnout syndrome is at play.

Introduce an Organization Wellness Program 

Every organization is different, and as such, there is no “one size fits all” system for developing a wellness program. Every organization will have different needs and different challenges in maintaining productivity. 

Consider the biggest pain points in your employees’ day-to-day experience. 

For an organization that struggles with over-programming, perhaps reward employees undergoing long hauls of work with an extra vacation day at the end to rest and recoup. 

For an organization struggling with team bonding or friendliness, perhaps a team potluck breakfast once a month would allow your staff members time to get to know each other better. 

For teams that are struggling with energy, a lunchtime walking group could work wonders. 

When developing your organization’s wellness program, consider the actions that would create the most impact on your team.

Spend Some Time in Your Benefits System

We all know the age-old tale: You finally receive your staff benefits – but have received no information on how to access them. When asking questions, you are told to follow up with the insurance provider directly. 14 days later, when you finally receive a reply, you have completely forgotten the context of your original question. 

If you offer staff benefits, try assigning a point person to receive and communicate up-to-date information on accessing benefits. This is especially necessary if you don’t have an HR Manager. 

Incorporating this information into training and onboarding guides allows employees easy access to not only receiving their benefits, but maximizing what they can obtain through your workplace package. 

Consider requesting a training session from your benefits provider on how to correctly administer your system, and keep this information accessible for new employees.

Consider Workload Mismatch 

When onboarding and training staff members, it’s important to spend time conducting check-ins, especially as your staff-member matures in their role and responsibilities.

As an extension of this, you should consider if your employee is struggling in the organization, or just struggling in their role. A staff member might have the potential to be an A+ fundraiser, but be trapped in an administrative role. 

Allowing employees to engage in projects that they’re genuinely interested in allows them to cultivate renewed enthusiasm for their work. It’s also a chance for them to consider new career paths, and find a role or task that they’re truly passionate about.

By creating a workplace where it’s okay to say “I don’t think this is the right work for me” you empower staff members to advocate for themselves, to produce higher quality work, and to reduce absenteeism. 

3. Your Technology Might Be Working Against You

Many nonprofits are being bogged down with outdated, ineffective technology

Management teams are often fearful of switching service providers because it takes time and money to retrain staff on a new system. However, down the line, investing in the right tools will pay off if it means making the life of your employees easier, and ultimately happier. 

Consider automating administrative work 

On its own, it might not be clear to see the ways technology, or the absence of technology, affect your staff. But if your impact is slowed down because employees are spending too much time with data entry and administrative work, it might be time to switch gears.

To ease your employee workload, consider what aspects of your administrative work can be automated. By taking the repetitive work off staff shoulders, automation can free up their time to connect with donors and do what really matters to your mission.

Take donation receipts for example. Issuing receipts can be confusing and involve high implications if there are human errors. 

This kind of data-heavy task can be easily automated if you invest in the right technology. For instance, Nonprofit CRMs like Keela automatically generate tax receipts when donations come through. 

Embrace a Work From Home Model 

The digital transformation makes it easier than ever to work remotely

With only a laptop and a few tools, teams are able to telecommute with little to no interruption to workflow. 

For instance, team messaging applications like Slack helps bridge the gap between those who are in-office and those who are working from home.

Video conferencing applications like Zoom keep meetings interactive, even when you’re not in the same room. 

And, a nonprofit management software like Keela allows you to keep track of your projects and related tasks all in one place.

Embracing remote work offers many benefits for your employees, from avoiding the daily commute, to working with a schedule that suits them. What’s next, this flexibility makes your workplace more attractive for working parents, and provides additional opportunities for those who are unable to work a traditional 9-5 style role. 

While every organization has unique needs, nonprofits need to take proactive steps to remove the stigma around burnout and alleviate the stress that causes it. Reducing stress among your staff starts with opening communications with staff members, implementing flexible working conditions and embracing the right tools to ease employees’ workload. 

Nonprofit workers should feel comfortable taking some time for themselves while working in an environment that makes them happy and productive. In the long run, this can only make your organization stronger. 

Check in on your workplace health!

Use this burnout self-test to assess how you feel about your job and your experience at work. 

This will give an indication of whether burnout syndrome is at play.

About the author:

Delainey Lockett, Office, People, and Culture Manager at Keela

Delainey is an organizational fiend, and when she’s not looking to Marie Kondo for tips, you can find her in the endless pursuit of the perfect breakfast. When she’s not putting out fires at work, she’s teaching others how to make them through her work as a leader for Girl Guides of Canada.

Check in on your workplace health!
Use this burnout self-test to assess how you feel about your job and your experience at work. 

This will give an indication of whether burnout syndrome
 is at play.