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  • Writer's pictureAlexson Calahan

From Burnout to Breakthrough: Understanding the Exhaustion of Nonprofit Communicators

Nonprofit friends, I see you out here. Managing the voice of an amazingly ambitious organization, fully capable of making life easier for so many...if you can just...make more people aware. Or so some may think, right? We know that organizations that accomplish big feats need a whole lot more than awareness. They need understanding, action, and support - financial support, political support, and staff support. 

You carry a big load and if your organization isn't meeting every objective when it comes to marketing and communications, I don't think that's your fault. Leadership needs to ensure communications pros have a seat at the table, guiding the organization as it moves toward its mission. You need the resources to match the big ambitions. You need to avoid the martyrdom trap so common among nonprofit careerists - sacrificing your wealth and well-being in the name of your chosen cause.

Having a flexible, seasoned communications pal can be your ticket out of these thorny situations. You deserve a seat at the table and the resources you need to help the organization achieve its mission. If you need help starting those conversations, read on.

Nonprofit communicators are tasked with managing the whole voice of an organization that often is doing a lot and may experience mission creep.

When organizational leadership aims to solve every issue, we all know the organization becomes less effective at solving anything. Communications professionals need a seat at the leadership table to guide the work being done. They also need the freedom to create messaging and positioning that strengthens an organization's programmatic offerings. This is a huge task that requires a vantage point to see the entire organization and the nimbleness to respond to a broad range of tactical needs.

I regularly work with clients who want to mention every aspect of their work in media opportunities. We work together to streamline communications and avoid cramming every program into every opportunity. Together, we outline organizational goals and prepare messaging, strategies, and tactics to advance each, and we get organizational buy-in from the start. This sets expectations from the start and helps us avoid mission creep as we gain more opportunities to share the organization's story.

Building a strategic communications plan from the start with the support of top staff and board leadership allows a communications team to set the tone for working together and leading the way an organization presents itself, reducing knee-jerk reactions when opportunities arise, which also makes the story more clear for constituents, building trust. 

Nonprofit communicators are not properly resourced to achieve the bold ambitions of their organizations. 

Reorgs and downsizing and budget cuts and sponsors pulling funding - I've been there. Each year, it seems that a communications team is expected to produce bigger results for more programs with less budget and fewer staff members. While I believe necessity can be the mother of intense creativity and powerful work, it doesn't mean nonprofit communications professionals should have to continually spin straw into gold - that just isn't possible.

When extra hands are needed, but the budget doesn't allow for a full-time hire, bringing in a seasoned expert can deliver efficient and impactful results. We regularly work with new or growing teams at global nonprofits in that first year of formation - when leaders know what they want and how to make immediate fixes, but need time to build an amazing staff team and simply don't have enough hours in the day to build the tools they need to begin to build their legacy.

Nonprofit communicators are often so passionate that they will overwork to their own determent. 

It feels good to work in service of the greater good. It can even feel good to wear yourself out working so hard for the greater good. But, this is a fine line to walk and I've seen it slip into burnout more often than I care to. As someone who spent almost 20 years climbing the nonprofit ladder, I know our propensity to act as martyrs for the sake of our cause. We tell ourselves it's OK to juggle a dozen projects, or be paid less than our corporate counterparts, or spend all weekend constructing balloon arches for the 5k because our work matters.

And it does.

But, so do you. As a human, you matter. Your best work will not come from bouncing from project to project, but from deep work dedicated to one overall mission. It is OK to bring in a peer with a proven track record to help you make time and space to focus on the larger organizational picture. In fact, it's what's best for your mission.

As a nonprofit comms professional, you have a huge job and an endless task list. To move the mountains you wat to move, you can't go it alone without burning out. Bringing in a trusted partner with a history of nonprofit communications excellence like Small Adventures Communications allows you to delegate projects and build a strategy that truly moves your mission forward.

When you are ready to reclaim your time and creativity in service of your important work, please reach out.

If this post resonates with you, please share it! 

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