It’s ironic.

Most people enter this field to help others. It FEELS GOOD doing good, right? Unfortunately, most development directors I know feel STRESSED, not happy, most of the time.

That begs the question, “Why does doing good often feel so bad?”

I found the answer in a new book by Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman called The Happy Healthy Nonprofit.

Happiness, Habits and Fundraising

It’s an interesting and important topic, one I’ve focused on for quite some time. One of my most popular keynote topics is called: Happiness, Habits and Major Gift Fundraising: Strategies to Survive and Thrive. This keynote addresses how to be happier at work and in life by adopting some better habits.

In my talk, I have everyone dance to Pharrel Williams’ song HAPPY. Interestingly, in The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, this very song is mentioned in the opening! Hint: maybe you’ll want to download this song!

That’s why I couldn’t wait to read this new book. It focuses on many of the points I touch in my talks, but it goes much deeper.

For instance, there’s an example of some at an animal shelter staff wanting to take some downtime to regroup and de-stress. Other staff members felt that if the animals couldn’t take a break from their cages, the staff shouldn’t be able to take a break from their work.

An even simpler illustration is, “If there are still starving children, how can staff possibly take a break?”

That’s how many people in our sector feel, because we are tackling such huge problems. These illustrate the problem perfectly.

The real problem with working endless hours on high stress issues is that staff are burning out at an alarming rate. This does real long term damage to the causes we care about, because the caring committed people drop from our field like flies.

A great analogy from the book comes from the airlines. At the beginning of a flight you are reminded to “put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.” In other words, you’re no good to others if you’re not okay yourself.

3 Keys to Being a Happy, Healthy Fundraiser

I’d like to pass on three key takeaways from this book. All three will help you be happier at work and in life.

1. Take care of yourself – make a self-care plan.

First and foremost, you must take better care of yourself. That means:

  • getting enough sleep
  • eating a healthy diet
  • exercising regularly
  • taking down time

These are basic, but often easier said than done. If these are not already part of your daily routines, you will need to work at creating new habits.

Try making a self-care plan. It’s important to write down your plan. Set small and specific goals for every day – such as, I will take a 10 minute walk every day, or, I will not snack after dinner.

Accountability counts!

In order to stay on track, find an accountability tool or partner. For example, I set an alarm on my phone and force myself to take a walk no later than 2:00 p.m. everyday.

Other things you might include on your self-care plan can include:

  • Add mindfulness practices, including meditation or deep breathing to your daily routine. Initially, this can be done for 2 minutes before you start work and at the end of the day. You can find a list of guided meditation apps at happyhealthynonprofit.org.
  • Practice gratitude. It turns out, thanking donors isn’t only good for donors, it’s good for you too. Being genuinely grateful for others and things you have in your life will reduce your stress and make you happier.
  • Plan for a digital detox. Leave your phone in a drawer or in your purse during the weekend. Don’t check your email for a full hour before you go to sleep, or as soon as you wake up.

2. Change the way you work.

After you’ve created a self-care plan, it’s time to think about your workplace and how you work.

There are countless suggestions in the book about how to change the way you work, but here are a few of my favorites.

  • Change your environment. If your office or workspace is drab, start by cleaning up and clearing out the clutter. Add some brightly colored and inspirational pictures or posters. Move furniture around to improve fung shui.
  • Next, work to improve the relationships in the workplace. Start to really listen to your colleagues and show respect. Pay attention to what they are saying (and not saying) and ask thoughtful questions.
  • Remember to take breaks throughout the day. Don’t sit at your computer for eight straight hours. Get up every hour and take a 5 minute stretch.

3. Change the work culture.

Now that you’ve created a self-care plan and worked on changing the way you work, it’s time to think about changing the culture at work.

  • Lead by example. Executive directors and CEO’s should take vacation time, leave early, and not send emails on nights or weekends. Leaders need to set the example of a healthy, happy nonprofit culture. If you work until midnight and never take vacation, your staff will feel they need to do the same, but not happily.
  • Move more. One of the most interesting examples in the book was an organization that experimented with paid time to exercise. Every staff member was given the opportunity to exercise during the workday! This organization did a trial period of 3 months of paid exercise time and for those who participated, they had pre- and post- testing done of blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress levels. Staff members who participated showed improvements in all areas.
  • Take daily walks. Another organization highlighted in the book takes a group walk together every day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for 15 minutes or one mile — rain or shine.

If you want more examples and ideas, you simply MUST get a copy of this book. It’s a wealth of research, examples, and great ideas to help you and your organization. And let’s be honest — we need all the help we can get!

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