Navigating burnout in fundraising
Updated: Jul 21
It happens to the best of us - the most committed fundraisers can feel a little burnout, now and again.
I started noticing my burnout more and more at the start of the year. I was cranky and angry. I tried to do things that replenished my spirit, like visiting my office, reading success stories to reconnect me to the mission, and doing creative things. I kept up my healthy habits, like taking a walk when I was stressed. But still - the burnout persisted. I was snapping and losing my cool. Nothing seemed to help.
So during a psychiatrist visit, I was explaining how I felt burnt out but I didn't want to leave my job. I felt really conflicted and torn. He said something that's stayed with me.
The primary driver of burnout is not being tired - it's being resentful.
He invited me to reflect on the feeling of resentment, list all the reasons I could be resentful, and do so in a private manner. Women in particular often feel like they don't have the right to feel a certain way for fear of being seen as emotional, so he said it was important to list everything out without fear of judgment for being seen as petty or holding a grudge. Then, examine the list, and reflect whether or not they were in my control.
Whether or not certain things are in my control to fix or remedy for the future is a great way to feel proactive. Plus, examining all the things that frustrated me was an important step to determine if my job had an institutional culture problem (it doesn't). I was frustrated with certain projects, like working on the audit reconciliation, and expressed those with my boss, who removed it from my workload (a relief).
But I was also frustrated with fundraising for crises, like the pandemic and then in February of this year, the winter storm that affected Texas. It just felt exhausting, but the winter storm was no one's fault and nothing can be done about it. It was just an unfortunate draw of the cards.
So my recommendation to fundraisers navigating burnout is to reflect on resentment. Don't be afraid to let it out on the page. Free yourself from feeling like you ought to feel a certain way, and just simply name thoughts. From there, I think the internal discovery and examination of feelings can lead to action steps and a clearer picture of how to move forward in work and life.
Because there is a lot you may not be able to change, but there are some things most definitely in your control.