Self Care for Fundraisers

Written by Whitney Brimfield

Did you ever notice how many people say that they get their best ideas in the shower? I certainly do. In fact, I got the idea for this blog post in the shower … which got me wondering. Why is it that ideas come so freely in the shower?

I’ll tell you why — because the distractions there are limited. Your mind is free to contemplate deeply. In order to be truly creative and highly effective, you need to free your mind of the daily nags and to do lists.

For us fundraisers, it’s hard to get away from the minutia. We are a detail-oriented people. We keep a running list of every donor, every deadline, every email, every strategy. Ask any fundraiser and they will tell you part of the job is about being able to focus on the details and the big picture at the same time. Depending on the size of your shop, your piece of the detail/big picture pie may be larger or smaller, but we all have to do it.

Those of you who aren’t fundraisers may relate, or you may be thinking … Oh my goodness, the stress! Yep, the struggle of fundraising stress is real. I’m known for being a pretty cool, calm, collected colleague (with some exceptions, for sure); most of my life’s most stressful moments have been fundraising related. But I want to live in a world where fundraising is not automatically equated with stress.

To that end, I’ve put together a list of what keeps me calm and happy in the midst of the stressful world of fundraising for nonprofits.

  1. PLAN AHEAD — Yes, it is not always easy to do this, but planning for delays in a project, be it a special event, a grant proposal, or a donor meeting, is critical to maintaining your sanity. Planning is the only way to avoid doing things at the last minute. And the last minute has the potential to be the most or least stressful moment of a project. Even if you are behind before you start, which we often are, try to build in a cushion for unexpected delays. This applies both to individual projects and to your whole operation. Without a plan, you are flying blind. You don’t know what you are supposed to be doing at any given time. Then, you end up trying to do everything at once.
  2. Breathe and relax every day — Nothing is going to get better if you are constantly running around with no time to think. Whatever doesn’t get done today will get done the next day. If you are working 80 hours a week and constantly feeling like you are not getting anything done, then take a look at how you use your time. One tool I’ve found very useful is the Pomodoro Technique (h/t to Rachael Cook for this gem).
  3. Take time off and turn off your email — If I’ve said it once I’ve said it 100 times. Don’t be a hero. No one wins when you are stressed, tired, and cranky all the time. Take time off. Pursue your hobbies. Spend time with friends and family. Set boundaries and hold them. If there is any reason why you feel like you can never take a vacation, then read this. (P.S. Remember what we said about creativity and effectiveness requiring a clear mind?)
  4. Talk to other fundraisers — Or rather, complain to other fundraisers. Demanding bosses, intricate proposal requirements, needy donors … we all deal with these things. You need to vent to people who speak your language. One way to find others is through your local AFP Chapter. You can also find hordes of supportive colleagues on LinkedIn Groups. If you’re having an issue, chances are someone else in the fundraising community is too. Reach out. If you can’t find anyone, feel free to email me with your issue and I will empathize remotely.
  5. My favorite self care tactics — Restorative yoga (It’s basically lying down in supported poses that are designed to relieve stress.), meditation (clears your head, refocuses your brain, opens up your creative side), walking in the woods (Need I say more?), spending time with animals (Seriously, take your friend’s dog for a walk. You’ll thank me later.)

If all else fails … have a glass of wine. Hang in there and focus on self care!

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