Self Care for Non Profit Leaders: On Balance

“A series on self care for non profit leaders? Isn’t that an oxymoron?”

— Susan L. Axelrod, CFRE, FRC, CCP

Might be. But explore it we must. The nonprofit sector rests on the shoulders of the leaders, and the shoulders are sagging under the weight of the combination of massive responsibility and lack of self-care. The balance is totally out of whack.

Balance? You mean like on a tightrope, wobbling back and forth, worried that you’ll fall without a safety net below? Or balance, like on a seesaw, up and down/up and down, back and forth, balancing the weight on both sides of every issue?

If balance is a hallmark of self-care, then it seems most nonprofit leaders fail.

We’re balancing employee attrition with donor attrition, balancing board and staff meetings with donor meetings, balancing community events, professional education, marketing, financials, data, and metrics, all with just the most recent equipment failure (computers, cars, furnace).

Where on that list are you? Where in The Balancing Act do you interject time for self or family, full healthy meals, a workout, a mind-clearing meditation, or even a quick walk outside?

Founder Syndrome Lacks Balance

This litany of lack used to describe Susan Shifrin, Founder and Executive Director of ARTZ Philadelphia. When I called to ask if I could interview her for this CharityChannel series on self-care, she laughed. Here’s what she told me:

“It’s funny that I’m the person you thought of to call for an article about self-care. When we first met, I know I was a mess. But I’m not anymore, and I’m happy to tell you about the one tool that changed everything for me. It’s meditation.

When I learned finally to create time and space to meditate, and I learned the benefits of meditation, I got clearer and calmer. I try to never miss a day. It helps me think more clearly and do better in my work and be better at my job. But most importantly, it really does help me feel more balanced.

When we first met, I can acknowledge how totally out of balance I was. I was a typical founding director – the mission was so important to me, it was so personal, that I allowed the work to become more important than my personal life. Balance and self-care were elusive; I have to admit I’m still not that great on the self-care part. It’s something I want to get better at. One thing that is still out of balance is finding sustained funding and this is on my mind most of the time. I am committed to finding those lifelong loyal donors you talked about when I first met you, the ones who become partners in our mission.”

Read more of Susan Axelrod’s article at CharityChannel here.

Portrait of Susan Axelrod smiling

The author, Susan Axelrod CFRE, FRC, CCP describes herself as an intuitive strategist with over thirty years of experience working with individuals who care about the world. Read more of her series on self care for non profit leaders on CharityChannel here: