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Neil Young once famously said, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”, in his 1979 hit My, My,Hey Hey. However, as nonprofit workers, we would beg to differ from the rocker. At 5n2, we strongly believe it is important to practice self-care before we can tend to the wellbeing of others.

Many of us start out with the desire of making a change. We commit our time to hours of paid or unpaid work to create the change we would like to see. Even if someone started off not caring about the cause, there is a certain ethos attached to nonprofit work. Unlike a for-profit setting where work is motivated by, well, a profit, nonprofits are motivated by philanthropic goals.

Take 5n2 for example: our mission of fighting food insecurity, and vision of creating equitable access to food supports in marginalized communities is ambitious, and some could even say larger than life. Individuals may feel like they are personally responsible for eradicating food insecurity, which can bring about anxiety and guilt: what if I am not doing enough? I should be working harder to help. This is a cause that I have dedicated my time to, and I can’t let down our cause!

Plus, since success in the nonprofit sector is measured by social impact rather than a salary, it can be difficult for the workers to separate their life-work balance and over-exhaust themselves. According to the Donorbox, symptoms include but are not limited to “fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness and feelings of apathy/hopelessness”.

To honour our values of compassion, integrity, and collaboration, 5n2 would like to suggest a few tips and resources to prevent nonprofit burnout before anyone is feeling the heat.

1. Mandating work hours each day

It’s hard to clock-in and clock-out your compassion for a cause that you are emotionally invested in. But when you’re literally losing sleep to work on a project, it’s important to step back and evaluate if you’re neglecting your physical or mental health. It’s important to ask: are you maintaining a healthy lifestyle? While nonprofit work is gratifying, you must take fuel before you can take flight.

2. Setting emotional boundaries

You may exclaim, “but who’s going to find us sponsors?”, or, “who’s going to find grants to sustain our operations?”. There is always something to be done and it’s easy to spiral into a headspace where taking a break seems to end in catastrophic consequences.

But the truth is that you are not a psychic, and you can’t predict what will happen if you take the time off to enjoy a warm summer night, or a chat with a loved one. It is absolutely okay, even necessary, to put your foot down, and allow space and time for yourself to relax.

3. Forgiving yourself when things don’t go your way, and rewarding yourself when things do go your way!

Setbacks are inherent with any project, but they can feel especially devastating when it happens in one that you had given all your time to. As difficult as it is, we must forgive ourselves when our efforts go awry, and stay resilient. Or sometimes, you will land an unexpected victory. Celebrate it with your team, and remember those achievements when things get tough!

Ultimately, the bottom line is in understanding that you are not responsible for single-handedly changing the world. Besides, sustaining your mental and physical health means that you will be able to do more good in the long run.

If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, please visit the Provincial Mental Health Supports here.