What Is Nonprofit Burnout and How Can I Fix or Prevent It?


With our ever-changing economy that may be putting a strain on your nonprofit’s budget, your employees may be finding it more and more difficult to maintain work-life balance. Burnout can affect any of your employees at any level, causing emotional, mental, and even physical stress. 

Of course, you should care about the well-being of your employees. However, aside from that, having numerous burnt-out employees can affect the productivity of your organization.

In this burnout guide, we talk about what signs to look for and how to fix them. With prevention methods and other nonprofit resources, we also teach you how to get ahead to fend off burnout in the future. 

Here are the sections that correspond with these topics:

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What Is Nonprofit Burnout?

Are you tired or stressed at the thought of going back to work on Monday? Do you feel stuck in a recurring cycle each week? This might mean you are experiencing burnout. 

Burnout is when you are feeling so much work-related stress that your productivity decreases. According to psychological studies on burnout, we know that there are three components: exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. 

But what does this really look like? Keep reading!

nonprofit-burnout-how-to-fixNobody likes burnout...including Salma!

Signs of Burnout

If you think you may be experiencing work-related burnout, ask yourself if you are feeling any of the following when you are working or thinking about work:

  • Difficulty concentrating on work

  • More procrastination on tasks

  • Less desire to come to work

  • Less passion for the organization’s cause

  • Irritability or impatience with your coworkers or clients

  • Lacking satisfaction when you achieve your goals

Causes of Burnout

There can be many reasons that burnout occurs. Some common causes for burnout at nonprofits are:

  • Low budgets or limited resources for a lot of work

  • Limited timeframes to complete projects

  • Not enough employees for the amount of work

  • Few opportunities for personal vacations

  • Consistently working long hours

  • Consistently lacking tangible results

Pro Tip: According to a survey from LendingTree, 56% of Americans donated to charities in 2021, which is an increase from 2020. With charitable donations on the rise, nonprofits are going to continue growing. Now is the time to hire a solid, reliable team so that no one experiences burnout down the road.

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How To Fix Burnout in My Nonprofit

If you believe you or other employees at your organization are experiencing burnout, it is time to take action. Burnout is fixable — so long as you put a procedure in place.

Take a Break

Seems easy, right? Unfortunately, taking a break is, for many people, easier said than done.

But the truth is, stepping away from your ever-growing workload is an absolute must. We recommend taking a full week off from work. This means fully disconnecting — no checking emails or Slack messages. This could reestablish your commitment and ease your stress. 

If a week off is not feasible at this time, create flexibility in your work schedule. This is easier now than ever before because many people work from home. You can take an hour-long break in the afternoon to take a walk, get lunch with friends, practice yoga, or do something else that calms you. As long as your manager knows you are stepping away and is ok with it, you can always make up the time later.

Rekindle the Passion

Most of your workers joined your organization for the cause, not for the salary. They accept that they will be working longer hours and getting paid less than if they were in the private sector because working toward your mission aligns with their personal beliefs. But during a period of burnout, they can struggle to see the "why" behind their many tasks.

When this happens, it is time to rekindle the spark. Share some personal stories from beneficiaries. Or, show some statistics on the department’s successes and milestones in the past month, quarter, and year.

Speak Up

When you are experiencing burnout, the worst thing you can do is not say anything at all. If you are feeling unnoticed, remember that during their daily grind, your colleagues may be too focused to notice your progression toward burnout. Do not take it personally! Instead, organize some conversations with them to talk about. 

nonprofit-burnout-how-to-fixNancy encourages her peers to speak up about experiencing burnout!

Before the meeting, make a list of your priorities. Be ready to be transparent about which projects and tasks are taking too much time and energy. It is your manager’s responsibility to then equip you with any new tools you need to tackle this workload.  

Enlist Help

A lot of burnout occurs when employees have too much to do in too little time. If your organization does not have the budget for another staff member, there is no harm in enlisting the help of a volunteer to take off some of the load. 

Volunteers are invaluable resources for your organization. Using them can have many positive payoffs for you, your employees, and your volunteers. By allowing employees to have a manager role with volunteers, they get an increased feeling of purpose and worth. You are also creating meaningful engagement opportunities for your volunteers, which can help build an even stronger community around your nonprofit. 

Pro Tip: Founder’s syndrome at nonprofits is a real issue that can lead to burnout. If you see that the founder, CEO, or other high-level leader is taking on too much, say something to your manager! They can work it up the chain of command. 

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How To Prevent Burnout in My Nonprofit

Even if everything is smooth sailing at your nonprofit, it is better to have preventative programs and measures in place than to have to change course in the future when burnout becomes a problem. Remember that prevention is better than a cure, as it costs less and creates a healthier work environment.

Have a PTO Policy

To prevent employee turnover, draft a proper paid time off (PTO) policy to keep workers from getting overwhelmed and leaving. Employees should work hard for your mission, but their time off and self-care are just as important

If you do not know how to establish a PTO plan, you can work with one of the many nonprofits that help other nonprofits. This organization can help you work out not just your PTO policy, but your entire employee benefits package.

Work on the Organizational Mindset

Employees joined your organization because they are passionate about the better future you are promising your community. Therefore, your cause should be top of mind with every task you give them. Here are a few ideas that help make your mission and values front and center:

  • Print your mission and values on a piece of paper, and put it in the conference room. 

  • During performance reviews, ask employees to reflect on which value they most connect with

  • Circulate a regular internal newsletter that highlights mission-driven stories. 

These tactics reinforce the idea that your employees are not doing their work for their boss — but for the mission.

nonprofit-burnout-final-thoughtsOliver is ready to stop nonprofit burnout in its tracks!

Advertise the Impact

Similar to the solution of rekindling the passion, another way to address burnout is to advertise the impact. What makes this method different is that rekindling the passion happens on a person-by-person basis based on who is experiencing burnout. However, advertising the impact focuses on company-wide awareness during regular meetings and other communications. For example, instead of showing how one burn-out employee has helped the mission, give statistics on how the organization is growing as a whole.

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Final Thoughts

Working within the nonprofit sector can be exhausting, but burnout does not have to be the norm. As the leader of an organization, it is important that you and the rest of the executive team create a healthy workplace.

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💡What is burnout at a nonprofit?

Nonprofit burnout is when a staff member feels so overwhelmed with work that they have no motivation to show up — both literally and figuratively. Find out more. 

🔑 How can a nonprofit avoid burnout?

A nonprofit can avoid burnout by having a solid PTO policy in place and making the cause top of mind with every task. Find out more. 

📝 How can a nonprofit fix burnout?

When a nonprofit employee is experiencing burnout, encourage them to take a break, find a way to rekindle their passion, and get them help with their heavy workload. Find out more.


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