How Not to Burn Out When You’re Working For a Nonprofit


Anyone can get burnt out without taking regular breaks. But work for a nonprofit takes burnout to an entirely new level: limited resources and overwhelming workloads, feeling that someone is waiting for your help, and dealing with social pressure often don’t allow nonprofit employees to take their earned leaves.

Many nonprofit employees admit that they’re burning out even if their organization does great work and they are personally appreciated. They are prone to overload and fatigue more than corporately employed specialists and, consequently, more exposed to burnout problems.

Preventing burnout and minimizing its effects requires a complex approach that affects all sides of your work life. We’ve collected the most important steps that minimize the risk of burnout and help handle its consequences.

1. Take time off work regularly

This can sound obvious, but taking breaks to refresh and switch off is the essential part of your anti-burnout strategy. It’s not always easy to squeeze non-work activities in a busy schedule, so plan them in advance! Schedule vacations, days off work, and various non-work activities, and stick to your plans.

We are often dealing with the “being a workaholic is good” culture, which especially affects nonprofits. Nonprofit employees are expected to dedicate all their time to their mission, which makes many of them feel guilty about taking a day or a week off. Being mindful of your resources and not allowing social pressure to deplete them is key for maintaining sanity and ability to successfully perform your work tasks.

2. Set boundaries between work time and personal time

Work done, have your fun, they say. So we often spend extra hours in attempts to get the never-ending pile of tasks finally done. If you’re feeling that work invades your personal time, know when to say no to extra hours. Burnout tends to creep up on us within a prolonged period of time, and usually we recognize it when it’s too late for minor actions.

To avoid this, don’t allow work to creep into your private time. Protect it by setting time slots for your hobbies or studies. It’s less likely to skip a yoga class or a guitar lesson planned in advance than spend an hour planned for exercising or learning to do more work, so consider enrolling in an interesting course or joining regular classes. This will help you disconnect from work and recharge.

3. Analyze how you’re using your time

Burnout problems are often caused by an employee’s attempts to meet high expectations or requirements. That’s why it is worth analyzing whether they can be achieved in real life. To figure out if your goals are unrealistic or your workload is unreasonably high, keep track of your work time.

Keeping record of work hours helps understand how much time regular tasks take, and see the proportion of various types of activities. Time-track records also work as a justification for limiting your workload and saying no to extra tasks. The ability to optimize your work process and make it more efficient is another advantage of timekeeping: it provides you with detailed data on where you’re using your time inefficiently and helps find out time-wasting activities.

4. Reduce time-wasting activities

Distractions and unproductive activities at the workplace are not limited to social media and fun content on the Internet. Useless meetings, unscheduled activities, inbox full of irrelevant emails undermine our productivity and invite even more tiredness than regular work routine. Being mindful about them helps save valuable resources and dedicate more time to actual work.

Keep record of how much time is consumed by such activities as meetings, communication with coworkers, or work with inbox. If you’re seeing that the results of these activities don’t justify time amounts spent on them, think of ways to reduce them – or quit them at all.

5. Work with purpose

Nothing demotivates and increases cynicism faster than meaningless work. That’s why staying on mission is important. Remember why you’re doing your work and what is your long-term goal. The ways to remind yourself of the reason why you’re here may differ: a paper poster at the workplace, a motivating app in your mobile device, or sharing mission goals and current results at team meetings – choose what works for you and your team, and use it.

6. Be creative

Boredom and routine kill motivation and productivity, exposing you to the risk of fatigue and burnout. To avoid this, find creative outlets: dedicate more time to your hobbies, or add something new to your workflow. Making some changes to your set of responsibilities can also help: taking on new activities at work helps find creative ways to get work done and develop a more efficient approach to accomplishing your tasks.

To increase creativity and improve your work process, read something about your field or activity. Take time to think and analyze where you are on the way to the long-term goals. This will not only help switch off from current tasks, but also make your work more meaningful and efficient.

7. Prioritize wisely

It’s hard to plan deadline-free work when you’re feeling overwhelmed with urgent tasks, but finding time for non-deadline parts of work is crucial for staying sane, regaining attention focus and ensuring more worthwhile use of your time. Not all tasks need to be done immediately, so prioritize them to get the most important ones done sooner.

Also, consider delegating non-urgent and low-priority work to interns or volunteers. Such tasks as filing new data or proofreading a program can be successfully done by them, so that you can free up your time for what is really important and feel better about your productivity and accomplishments.


Nonprofit employees are more prone to fatigue and burnout than corporate workers. Avoiding burnout and related problems requires a set of various actions. Being mindful about how you’re spending your work and personal time, staying on mission, and prioritizing work tasks are the key elements of building up an anti-burnout strategy that will allow you to work more productively and achieve better results.

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