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Opinion: Bone-tired nonprofit workers need refueling stations

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Our nonprofit professionals – the superheroes working behind the scenes to provide care to our most vulnerable, compassion to our seniors, love to our children and creativity to our community – are bone-tired.

We’re so mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted that it often feels like we’re running a chaotic nonprofit marathon on empty with no refueling stations or finish line in sight. 

Day in and day out, we’re living in a constant state of reaction, stepping out of strategic meetings to extinguish the next fire, wearing multiple hats to cover staff shortages, and prioritizing work on evenings and weekends to catch up instead of recharging with family.

These challenges, layered on top of limited resources, Band-Aid infrastructures and paper-thin support, create a recipe for disaster. It’s a vicious cycle of scarcity and fear that nonprofits perpetuate.

We reason that our organization’s purpose is to serve people but lack that same compassion and support for the people who fuel our nonprofit missions every day – our teams.

The ongoing challenges and turmoil brought on by the pandemic have aimed a floodlight on nonprofits and the lack of refueling stations for our professionals who are working miracles on empty. These superheroes are not superhumans, and maintaining the status quo will not change the result.

Last year, it was reported in Forbes that 45% of nonprofit employees will seek new jobs by 2025 due to low wages, limited career mobility and the fact that nonprofits are not well-run businesses. 

Nonprofit leaders must be intentional on creating healthy organizational cultures, aim to be people-centric, reallocate resources and proactively refuel their teams to create a sustainable future.

Here are four actionable steps you can take to refuel your team in 2022.

  1. Assess the landscape. With uncertainty looming, you may not know where to begin. Start by assessing your team, leadership and board, which can help reveal a 360-degree view of your organization and next steps. I recommend conducting a SHIFT Assessment to start an honest conversation with your team. Ask the following questions and listen carefully: What Successes have we experienced over the past few years? What are continuous Headaches for our nonprofit? What Improvements can we make to support and strengthen the organization? Is there something we can Forgo and take off our plates in 2022? What Transformational ideas should we prioritize and tackle? For this process to be effective, invite all voices to the table and encourage your team to step away from the daily grind to reflect, brainstorm and provide invaluable feedback.
  2. Dedicate time for discovery. Even prior to the pandemic, nonprofits were running at a rapid pace. There may be skill sets, ideas and long-haul strategies sitting on the sidelines that you missed in the chaos. Scan the team, leadership and board to unleash the abundance you already have at the table. This process can help fulfill your team’s greater purpose, provide diverse insights and create an inclusive environment where all team members are heard and their strengths activated.
  3. Review the foundation. Nonprofits are notorious for falling back on “this is how we’ve always done it” for operations, processes and communications. We need to allocate resources to build a solid, sustainable infrastructure for the team’s processes, fundraising, marketing, programs/services, technology, finance, human resources and communications. Teams that ensure the foundational building blocks are in place will emerge from the pandemic with stronger, more collaborative and more effective organizations.
  4. Celebrate successes together. Before you take another step into 2022, take the time to pause and celebrate the successes of the people behind your mission: staff, board and leadership. Through these unprecedented times, we’ve leaned on one another and remained steadfast and resilient. Thanking your team shouldn’t be an afterthought. Every person behind every event, milestone and success should be celebrated and appreciated in an authentic way to boost employee morale and create a positive organizational culture.

In 2022, be intentional about refueling the members of your team – assess the current landscape, bring all voices to the table, reallocate and invest in the capabilities and strengths of the staff, build a sustainable foundation for success, and celebrate milestones.

Every single person is touched by a nonprofit’s mission, and our community counts on this sector significantly. These superheroes deserve our appreciation, respect, best resources and strategies, and greatest support to thrive.

Gretchen Colon is the co-founder of Springfield-based Omada Collaborative LLC, a consulting business for nonprofits, ministries and family-owned businesses. She also serves on the Association for Fundraising Professionals Ozark Region Chapter Board. She can be reached at gretchen@omadacollaborative.com.

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