Overwhelm and Burnout: Why Charities Need Coaching

Jun 23, 2015 | Executive Coaching Blogs, Life Coaching Blogs, Team Training

Be more productive, creative AND impactful

In the everyday work of charities, we heap a lot of work on our employees’ plates. Job descriptions include two or three different roles or skillsets. There’s more work than can be possibly be done in one week. Because we often pay so little, our employees qualify for the social services they’re helping their clients with (which is so screwed up).

A couple of years ago a major study was released documenting the situation of development directors by surveying 2,700 of these folks and executive directors. The results were not happy-happy-joy-joy.

From  the Nonprofit Quarterly article on the study, here’s how they summarized the development director scene:

The position of development director often:

  • Is occupied by someone who has no experience or is a novice at securing gifts;
  • Is unguided by a fundraising plan and unsupported by a fundraising data base;
  • Is paid worse in organizations that require more base building and systems development than in organizations that already have momentum and a full toolkit;
  • Is plagued by widespread ambivalence on the part of board members even though development directors probably believe that part of their job is to mobilize board members; and
  • Disappoints – and maybe the individual most disappointed is the development director.

One of the most significant economic engines of an organization:

  • Doesn’t have the right education, training, or experience to do his or her job
  • Has no plan or data
  • Is building the plane as they fly it (my apologies for the boring business jargon)
  • Has expectations that are aren’t in line with the Board’s
  • Feels frustrated by the lack of impact

Metro Train blurryBy my way of thinking, these issues aren’t reserved just for the development director’s position. Many nonprofit employees and volunteers experience these same issues each day.

Many years ago when I was  a few months into a new job, I had a local board member write me a scathing email about how I (yes, me personally) was “ruining the organization” and “threatening its survival” by changing the logo. He copied my boss for good measure. A few notes here:

  1. That decision was made before I joined the staff and he had already been given the chance to share his input.
  2. Did I mention I had “coordinator” in my title and had seven bosses, plus eight advisory boards that wanted input into my work?
  3. I learned the power of a jpeg over the course of these several years.
  4. I learned that change happens more slowly than one can anticipate and that I tended to move faster than others. I also came to see that I am very low in patience when it comes to big projects…a skill I’m still working on.
  5. I also learned a good lesson on how not to lose my sh*t and pull a power trip on others. It feels dirty.

In a matter of a few paragraphs, about 47 boundaries were crossed here. I left my boss to handle it, but in the process was still left without skills to cope with a bad situation. Looking back, I see now how I was ill-equipped to traverse a complex situation.

One Part of The Solution

While thankfully there are voices who are calling for significant changes in our sector, we have a long way to go with how we treat the people who carry out some of the most difficult work in our country. (If you’d like to hear some voices who are calling for changes check out artfulfundraiser.com and nonprofitwithballs.com.)

Serenity beach roadStructural changes are one part of the equation, but individuals need help adapting too. This is where coaching comes in. Coaching helps individuals and teams become more flexible and creative and better able to adapt. Not creative in the sense of, “Let’s make string art today instead of helping sex trafficked women.” But creative in the way that allows them to look at a grant application and find new ways of using old money. Coaching allows us to become more present and assertive, to have hard conversations about misaligned expectations without become defensive or weird.

So here’s why nonprofits need coaching:

  • Accountability is weird. We all have at least 2 bosses, three grants, and a board. Each of these often have different ideas of success. Coached employees can raise up these disconnects and help connect the dots in a calm way. They become awesome conversation facilitators.
  • We have a lot of helpers who can’t stop helping. Helpers turn into bitter martyrs. Bitter martyrs are then serving some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In another post, I captured the voice of a man who was trying to feed his family and had to deal with the crabby voice of a government employee wielding power. No one deserves this. If a martyr doesn’t turn bitter, they lose all sense of appropriate boundaries. They feel lost and without focus. They lose productivity, impactfulness, and creativity.
  • Nonprofits aren’t good at implementing plans. Most nonprofits have strategic plans and case statements — that sit on a shelf somewhere. All organizations need help staying the course. Coached employees are accountable to themselves and to the vision. They have the stick-to-it-ness to see the plan through, not give up on it before the ink is dry or when there is a hiccup.
  • Coached employees will stay longer. They know what they need to be successful and will ask for it. Coached managers know how to better engage with their employees and listen.
  • Coached employees are leaders, regardless of their level. I spent my time in nonprofits wishing for a better, more powerful title. What I came to learn is that a leader is a leader, regardless of their “place” in an organization. Leaders find solutions, have difficult conversations, tackle change, listen, and are role models for an institution’s values.

Here’s the deal: you and your employees need to support, encouragement, and some tough love to keep doing the work you’re doing. Avoid burnout and get rid of guilt (which is one of the least helpful emotions) by bringing coaching into your organization.