FUNDRAISER BURNOUT

Dear Kim:

I have been a development director for three years, and before that I was the office manager in a different nonprofit for two years.  I am 27 and these are the only two jobs I have ever had.  I like being a development director for the most part, but I find it very stressful.  Now that the economy is in the tank, am I supposed to work all the time?  I have been working every weekend and most evenings and don’t know how long I should keep working this hard.  I don’t really think I am producing that much more.

Can you help me figure this out?

~Worried, Tense, Exhausted, but Otherwise Fine

Dear Otherwise:

The problem with development, and what gives our whole profession an enormously high turnover, is that the job is one of enormous responsibility and very little authority.  As you work on a Saturday afternoon or a Wednesday evening, know that you are joined by thousands of development people all over the country and around the world and this is not a good thing.  When I was your age I worked all the time just as you are now.  Being young, I could maintain that pace.  I didn’t have kids or pets or much of a life, actually.    I set a very bad example for the rest of the staff who resented how much time I worked, even as they praised my productivity.  I disguised the cost of doing business because when I left the next person couldn’t get the job done in a 40-hour week.  Everyone thought she wasn’t that good, but I had worked the equivalent of two jobs!  I set up expectations that could not be met, I did not ask for help, and actually after awhile,  as you have observed of yourself, I wasn’t that productive.  Later I learned that one of the first rules of time management is the law of diminishing return.  It seems that 60 hours a week is the absolute maximum someone can work and be productive, and that is only for short sprints.  The ideal work week is 35-45 hours, and you need to get your work done in that much time. Don’t follow my example.  You will hurt yourself and your organization.

Instead, talk to the Executive Director about your workload.  You, the ED, the Chair of the Board or some other reliable board member need to figure out a fundraising plan that works for your organization during this time.  Then all of you have to divide up the fundraising tasks amongst yourselves and a larger group of volunteers. A large part of your job is managing other people doing fundraising and there is no time like the present to start doing that job.  Use this time to build a cadre of people who will help with fundraising.  A broad base of reliable volunteers who work on different fundraising strategies for specific amounts of time is the most important variable for organizations to survive this recession.  Our economy is going to be in turmoil for quite some time, and you need to pace yourself for the long term.

Good luck!

~Kim Klein

Keep a look out for upcoming articles in the March/April and May/June issues of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal about keeping good development staff and avoiding fundraiser burnout!