We’re all human. We get tired, lose focus and experience fatigue. Sometimes we can’t name what we are experiencing. We find it difficult to refocus, reenergize, and – if needed – reinvent. When this occurs within a non-profit we refer to it as “non-profit fatigue.”
Symptoms include feeling as if you are working from a defensive position, that you and your organization are in a perpetual crisis mode. Your organization may be underfunded, your staff overworked and underpaid. Board members may question the skill set, leadership and experience of the staff. Employees – especially the executive director or CEO – may question the board’s commitment and leadership. You may experience a lack of success in meeting goals and objectives. Board, staff and volunteers may feel unsupported, as if they are “in over their heads.”
There may be finger pointing, hand-wringing, absences at board meetings, and a general sense of drift.
Non-profit fatigue sets in over time. It is insidious, highly infectious and often grows and spreads without detection.
Contributing factors include a lack of open communication, transparency, accountability and flexibility. These can be compounded by a lack of new ideas and new blood. Perhaps some of your board members, staff or even your executive director have stayed too long. Lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities can contribute to lots of activity with little outcome. One fatigue symptom – doing the same thing over and over again – can result from lack of opportunities for professional development and growth.
Finally, an often overlooked contributor is “disconnect.” Over time your organization can become disconnected from the community it serves. It can become inwardly focused instead of community focused. This often coincides with a lack of intelligence regarding how the market (including potential donors!) responds to your organization.
If any of this sounds familiar, don’t worry. Non-profit fatigue is a natural occurrence within the life-cycle of an organization. And, there is a cure. You can apply the cure when you recognize the symptoms, or you can apply it proactively before it infects the uninfected.
Our suggested cure: proactive planning. Get to work examining the fundamentals of your organization, its mission, vision, operations, leadership model, community engagement, marketing, and fundraising. Examine your business plan, your strategic plan, your marketing plan and your fundraising plan. Are you benchmarking your progress? Evaluating your results? Adjusting course? If you don’t have these, roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Look forward, seek solutions, examine what works and what doesn’t. Focus on your vision and goals. Get into planning. Open the metaphoric windows and let in some fresh air!