One of the things that most nonprofit leaders and team members find hard is setting healthy boundaries and sticking with them. In a way, it’s part of taking hard decisions.
What are hard decisions?
Hard decisions are for instance decisions to say no to toxic mantras that are widespread inside nonprofit organisations.
- 24/7 mentality. (I am available all the time)
- We are a family mentality. (We are together and the outside world isn’t as important as our team and organisation.)
Why is it hard to say no to 24/7 mentality?
Most people start or join a nonprofit out of a passion for the cause. And because the cause is super important it is difficult to set strict boundaries. Because that would seem like saying: my friends, my family, my hobbies, I myself, are more important than girls’ education, access to justice, an almost extinct animal, free media or whatever the cause may be.
And that feels simply wrong.
How can dinner with friends be more important than any of these things?
So we must be available 24/7 because there’s never anything that could be more important.
Why is it hard to say no to the family idea
So nothing can ever be as important as the cause. And so it follows that the people who share a passion for the same cause feel closer than other people in our world. They are the ones who understand us better. The ones with whom we can easily talk about the cause and the work and all the challenges.
So they become our friends and we treat each other like family. If we celebrate something, we celebrate it together.
And through this, it becomes even harder to be ‘away’ from work, because that means being away from closest friends and family.
So yes, it’s quite hard …
Breaking with these mantras isn’t easy. And you’ll need your earplugs. So you can tune out people telling you real nonprofit people aren’t “9 to 5” people.
… but also necessary
Breaking with these mantras is necessary to create a healthy workspace. A workspace where team members and you yourself can refresh and recuperate from the stress of working for a cause that never sleeps. Working for an organisation that faces more uncertainties about partnerships, money and all that than other workplaces.
It’s as simple as putting up your own oxygen mask first. Something they tell you in every aeroplane before takeoff. If you want to help others, like the cause or community you serve, you need to be in good shape yourself. And for that, you need to be able to relax, rest, refresh, recuperate your body and your mind.
So boundaries then
To set boundaries is simply a matter of making choices and standing up for them.
Choosing to spend time on a frivolous (or not frivolous) hobby. To spend time with friends laughing about nothing in particular. Or to spend time with your family and play your role in family life.
And standing up for these choices by making them actionable. By saying: between 6pm and 9am I will not check my email. (And I won’t be sending emails either – and I won’t feel guilty about it). On the weekends, I won’t answer my phone. I will use my four weeks of annual leave days in full and I won’t be reachable during these days. Or whatever are good boundaries for you.
Lead by example
As a leader, you will need to show what healthy boundaries look like. And that it’s nonsense to think that someone with boundaries is a lesser dedicated team member. Someone who doesn’t really care about the cause after all. Someone who doesn’t deserve to be part of the family.
No, it’s not easy …
And no that’s not easy. Because your responsibilities as a leader will make you feel you cannot be missed. You’ll feel like you need to be there 24/7 for your nonprofit family. Even if you know, in your mind, that it’s not true. And even if you know that the thing about own oxygen mask first is real.
… but you can make it simpler
To make it easier, start developing your standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the things you execute on your own. And develop your delegation skills. So you can handover your work and SOPs to someone who’s fully capable of stepping into your shoes while you’re taking care of yourself and your loved ones.
How I can help
In August 2023, I will host a few sessions talking about so-called soft skills nonprofit leaders need. Like how to have hard conversation, keep your team motivated, get through a crisis and take care of yourself. If you’re interested in joining, make sure you’re subscribed to my weekly Monday Motivations. That way you’ll be the first to know when they happen and how you can join!
If you want to learn about setting up and maintaining a good HR system for your nonprofit, join my course Practical Labour Law & HR for nonprofits.
Want to know more and ask questions?
If you want to discuss this more and maybe share your stories for feedback – jump into my nonprofit support community and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!
Here is how you can join my free nonprofit support community
You can join my free nonprofit support community on the Heartbeat platform here. This group is a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.
You can visit the community via a browser or via an app. Here is the link to download the Heartbeat chat app in the Google Play store.
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