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Beyond Burnout

Your Personal Plan For Thriving In The Midst of It All

Here’s a tragic reality: People value their health most only after they lose it.

Think about it. When your mind, body and spirit are whole and functioning at peak capacity, all is good. Check that. All is great.

However, when your health and well-being head south—everything changes.

To be sure, your energy-levels plummet, your optimism abandons you, your desire deserts you and your confidence takes a powder. What’s worse, you begin to ruminate and, ultimately, anxiety takes hold.

Almost automatically, you begin to question if you can really sustain the pace. The next thing you know, the tasks and challenges you once loved now begin to seem like chores. Finally, you wonder if you’ll ever feel like your old self again. Pushing through the hours of your daily routine, the joy you once knew is now officially gone.

If this sounds familiar, you might be experiencing some of the classic symptoms brought on by burnout. And, if left unchecked, burnout can significantly change your life— and the lives of those around you— for the worse.

In this article, we’ll define burnout and share with you the specific clinical signs and symptoms. Next, we’ll take a closer look at the phenomenon of burnout and how it’s endemic in the fundraising profession. Finally, we’ll offer up seven real-life solutions that can help you to not only avoid burnout, but thrive in the midst of it all.

By reading this article, you’ll better understand burnout and the steps you can take to prevent it.

Let’s get started.

So What Exactly Is Burnout?

According to researcher Teresa Evans-Turner, burnout refers to a process in which a person’s attitudes and behaviors change in profound and negative ways in response to job stress.

To be sure, because of the demands placed on fundraisers—and those in the helping professions—burnout can effect a significant proportion of people who work and lead in nonprofit organizations.

Specifically, burnout leads to three distinct and identifiable clinical symptoms which include: 1.) physical and emotional exhaustion; 2.) cynicism and detachment and; 3.) feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

Let’s take a closer look at each.


Physical And Emotional Exhaustion

When it comes to the first set of major symptoms—physical and emotional exhaustion—burnout can manifest itself in a variety of ways including anxiety, anger, depression, loss of appetite, increased illness, insomnia, fatigue and a whole host of other frightening physical symptoms (not limited to chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal problems and migraines).

What’s more, when a person is experiencing the hallmarks of physical and emotional exhaustion due to burnout, they may also be sick more often due to a compromised immune system that’s getting hammered by unrelenting job pressures.

While these tell-tale signs—in and of themselves—may be terrifying, there’s more to burnout than just the physical manifestations.


Cynicism And Detachment

Formally defined, cynicism is the unbecoming quality whereby an individual starts to question the motives and actions of all those around them.

In a fundraising scenario, for example, cynicism might become evident when a once vibrant and dynamic professional begins to succumb to the debilitating effects of burnout. In this scenario, the individual may start to question the underlying motivations of donors. If left unchecked, it may spread to questioning the validity of the organization’s mission and vision as a whole. If the progression continues, the fundraising professional may even go as far as questioning the needs of the people the organization serves.

When this happens, the individual then begins to detach themselves from their professional and organizational pursuits. In turn, this leads to alienation and isolation from the rest of the tribe.


Feelings Of Ineffectiveness And Lack Of Accomplishment

Having gone through the physical manifestations and cynicism that accompany burnout, the individual now becomes ineffective in their occupational and personal routines.

Without experiencing daily successes in terms of achieving goals and fulfilling obligations, the individual begins to feel the very real sensation of lack of accomplishment. Without assistance or intervention, this situation can deteriorate even further leading the individual to a crossroad—get help or suffer the consequences.

Burnout In The Nonprofit Arena

Although counterintuitive, burnout is indeed endemic in the nonprofit arena. In fact, recent research tells us that, in any environment where individuals give selflessly, the potential for burnout is high.

“Although counterintuitive, burnout is indeed endemic in the nonprofit arena. In fact, recent research tells us that, in any environment where individuals give selflessly, the potential for burnout is high.”

The reason that this happens is because “helpers” often neglect their own needs in order to provide assistance to others. Once this pattern takes hold, an individual’s bucket becomes empty in a very short period of time resulting in the aforementioned manifestations and ultimately culminating in full-fledged burnout.

In a unique and compelling report entitled, “Underdeveloped: A National Study Of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Professionals,” experts tell us that large numbers of current Development Directors are expected to leave their jobs. In fact, half of all Development Directors are anticipated to leave their current jobs in two years or less—smaller organizations are even more vulnerable with higher rates of turnover risk.

Furthermore, while a noble profession, many Development Directors aren’t committed to staying in the field. Beyond the previously mentioned rates of organizational departure, significant numbers of Development Directors report that, “Although fund development is my current field of work, I’m not sure if I’ll stay in it for my entire career.”

Given the demands and responsibilities of fundraisers and nonprofit professionals, it’s no surprise that this is transpiring. To retain these important individuals, certain adjustments and modifications need to be made to how the fundraising work gets done.

Preventing Burnout In Nonprofit Organizations 

There’s an old adage that goes like this: The time to fix the roof is before it starts raining— and this definitely applies to nonprofits and how they conduct their business. Here are seven priorities that will help you in preventing burnout.


Keep The Vision Front And Center 

Recent research tells us that those individuals who put “purpose” first, lead healthier, happier and more productive lives. For fundraisers and nonprofit professionals, this means keeping the organization’s vision front and center. When we lose sight of our purpose and get caught up in the minutiae (e.g., only meeting revenue numbers), work takes a dramatic turn for the worse. The only way to avoid this is to put purpose first.

“Recent research tells us that those individuals who put “purpose” first, lead healthier, happier and more productive lives.”


Celebrate Successes 

A second priority to prevent burnout is to regularly celebrate your successes. Too many times, we focus only on the things that we don’t get done. In so doing, we rob ourselves of the opportunities—and accompanying joy—that goes along with celebrating small victories. While it seems like such a simple thing, celebrating success is another powerful way for you to prevent burnout.


Get Plugged In 

A robust network of supportive colleagues and close friends has a profound effect on keeping us healthy and well. In fact, study after study confirms that the more friends and close relationships you have in your life, the better your health. By establishing a wide circle of relationships, you can take enormous steps toward not only protecting your health but maximizing your overall quality of life as well.


Practice Self-Care 

When it comes to preventing burnout, a few simple daily routines can make all the difference in the world. That said, getting enough physical activity, eating the right foods, maintaining a regular sleep schedule and taking periodic breaks can work wonders when it comes to enhancing your overall health and well-being.


Catch The Attitude of Gratitude 

When engaged in demanding and challenging tasks (e.g., raising money to help others), it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. This is where gratitude comes into play. Gratitude is simply and consistently acknowledging all of the good things you have in your life. Interestingly, for those people who make it a point to count their blessings each and every day, the amount of time spent feeling sorry for themselves diminishes exponentially.


Give Yourself A Break 

Perhaps the most significant cause of burnout is the unrelenting pressure that accompanies your job. The fact of the matter is this: When it comes to raising money to help others, enough never is.

As a result, the vicious cycle begins. You try raise more, give more and help more. In the process, there’s no downtime and there’s no respite from the onslaught. Newsflash: The only way to maintain longevity in this field is to take your regularly scheduled PTO/ vacation days. By taking this time, your body— and your brain—have a chance to recharge and recover.


Establish Clear Boundaries 

In the never-ending pursuit of helping others, it seems that there are rarely (translated never) clearly established boundaries. But without them, everything you and your organization takes on becomes a high-priority. And when this happens, you get sucked into taking responsibility for every task, project and undertaking that comes along.

This is a classic recipe for burnout.

By establishing clear boundaries, you are taking responsibility for what is rightfully and dutifully yours—and leaving the rest as opportunities for others to contribute their gifts and talents.


One of the greatest pursuits in life is helping someone else.

As a nonprofit professional, you are uniquely positioned to impact the greater good. The challenge is to protect your health and well-being so that you can make a lasting contribution by dedicating your time, energy and effort to those who need it most. By embracing the information in this article, you will substantially increase your odds of having a long and rich career—one that will benefit not only you, but all those around you.


Patrick Traynor, J.D., is the Executive Director of Dakota Medical Foundation and Impact Foundation. In 2004, Pat led the establishment of Impact Foundation and its Institute with the support of Dakota Medical Foundation and Alex Stern Family Foundation. His visionary leadership is guiding North Dakota and western Minnesota to become the most generous and healthy region on the planet.

The Impact Institute equips exceptional leaders to make an extraordinary impact. The Institute provides an annual pathway of tools and trainings that unleash the limitless potential of people to create greater impact for their nonprofit missions. It was founded and is a proud partner with the Dakota Medical Foundation and Alex Stern Family Foundation.

Scott Holdman is the Impact Institute’s Director. He is an innovator in nonprofits who, through training, coaching and product creation helps organizations to thrive. He is a professional creative with 17 years of experience in the social sector solving complex challenges.

Dr. David Hunnicutt is the CEO of David Hunnicutt Int’l. He is a sense-maker, simplifier and the arch-enemy of underperforming cultures. Obsessed with helping leaders create breathtaking change, he is inspired to do cool stuff daily.

Impact FundingLogic™ is a six-segment, revolutionary sense-making system for fundraising that will help you achieve greater results to dramatically impact those you serve.


Bell, Jeanne and Cornelius, Marla. A Joint Project Of CompassPoint And The Evelyn And Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. (March 2013). “Underdeveloped: A National Study Of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising.” CompassPoint. Accessed on 10/25/16 via online at

Bourg Carter, S. (2013). “The Tell Tale Signs Of Burnout…Do You Have Them?” Psychology Today. Accessed on 1/17/17 via online at

Evans-Turner, T. (2010). “The Maslach Burnout Inventory And Its Relationship With Staff Transition In And Out Of The Intellectual Disability Workforce.” Donald Beasley Institute. Accessed on 1/17/17 via online at EvansTurner.pdf.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015). “Job Burnout: How To Spot It And Take Action.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed on 1/17/17 via online at art-20046642.

Weisman, C. (2012). “A Recovery Plan For Fundraisers Facing Burnout.” The Chronicle Of Philanthropy. Accessed on 1/17/17 via online at

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