In the development office

Oxygen Mask or Self-Care is critical

The nonprofit sector is a unique arena – critical in its work, passionate in its culture, exhilarating in its reward. While the benefits of nonprofit work are unmatched, the sector also brings with it a unique kind of pressure and anxiety, which in our best moments propel us, and in our worst make us forget why we came here in the first place.

These are the moments when we need an oxygen mask.

Setting: Airplane

Overhead announcement: In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling. Place the mask over your face. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting theirs.

The expectation is that in an environment filled with smoke or lacking oxygen, your performance as a viable human will suffer. I am not a doctor, but it is likely that you’ll pass out pretty quickly. Meaning: You’re no good to anyone if you don’t have your own act together. Help yourself first, before you help your fellow passengers. Here’s how Megan Baehrens manages her nonprofit job for better self-care.

Name: Megan Baehrens

Nonprofit: San Diego Coast Keeper

Title: Development Manager

Average number of hours worked per week: 50-60

Activities enjoyed when not at work: Surfing, Yoga, hiking, running, sailing, cooking, reading.

Elements that provide better balance between work and life: Ditching electronics by not taking a laptop home or turning off the work cell phone. Also, regular exercise.

Megan: My schedule is definitely complicated by the unpredictable tasks that pop up. The nature of a development/fundraising job is that I need to be both proactive and responsive. So when the opportunity to reach a new or current donor arises, I drop everything and spend a half-day doing that. But if the half-day I sacrificed was slotted to write a grant for an upcoming deadline or provide feedback to a colleague, I still need to get that done!

The culprit: Unpredictability and limited resources (“trying to do more with less”).

The solution: Prioritize the work so you accomplish the most important tasks first. Set aside time on the calendar (even if it’s just later in the day or week) to discuss or take care of important things that pop up, but can wait. Don’t get distracted by things that are easy or fun, but not urgent.

Megan: Part of the time-management conundrum is balancing time in meetings with time working at my desk. Some meetings are essential and as a fundraiser, it’s important that I stay aware—in a timely manner—of developments throughout the organization. But some things I can just as easily stay current on by spending five minutes chatting with my colleagues.


The culprit: Too many long meetings.

The solution: Operate meetings to be efficient and productive by utilizing an agenda and keeping the meeting time to 30 minutes or less. Only require staff to participate in the portions of meetings that impact them or require their input.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Here are some helpful tools for better self-care.

Megan’s Self-care Solution #1: Downtime.

The more time I spend in the public eye and going a mile-a-minute, the more I appreciate quiet time to read a book or do  something just for me. Spending time with my family and friends tops that list. I love to be outdoors in nature and in the water, too. It reconnects me with what is important and in balance. Making sure to respect an appointment with myself the same way I would with a donor helps keep this time inviolate.

Megan’s Self-care Solution #2: Integrate.

Once I understood that the obvious personal schedule of a 9-5 job doesn’t apply to me, I stopped trying so hard to create a separate space for “time working” and “time not working”.  I grab an hour on my way from one meeting to another to have a haircut or read a chapter in my book over lunch. I go surfing at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, then spend three hours editing a proposal and end the day at a friend’s house. That said, getting physically and mentally away from work to go camping or spend a couple days totally disconnected from my normal routine is hugely important, as well.

Megan’s Self-care Solution #3: Delegate.

It’s no secret: more hands make lighter work. The power of volunteers has become an essential part of getting everything done. With a few people coming in or working on their own time to complete pieces of the fundraising function has made a huge difference. Taking the time to identify volunteers with strong skill sets, properly train them and make them feel a part of the team pays dividends for the volunteer, the organization and my own peace of mind.

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