Who remembers When a Stranger Calls, the horror film from 1979? Maybe the 2006 remake? It features a teenage girl babysitting for a family. She continually gets these creepy phone calls from someone asking, “Have you checked the children lately?” Spoiler alert: when she finally calls the police, they tell her the calls are coming from inside the house. And that’s when I lost my mind, because there’s my worst nightmare come to life. (I so should not watch horror movies, because I have an overactive imagination and, let’s face it, I’m a wimp.)
Burnout is a lot like the plot to this movie. Only the stranger is no stranger at all. The “call” is coming from your workplace. The job may be too large of a workload for a mere mortal to handle. Bosses and boards may have very unrealistic expectations. Coworkers often have no idea the patience, brain power, and creativity required to research funding opportunities, develop a quality program, and write a successful proposal. Every grant award leads to the need for five more. No one wants to follow the grant management rules. Program officers do not share needed details for reports. The finance department expects you to speak accounting, and it might as well be Greek as far as you’re concerned. Add the additional worry of a global pandemic, and it’s no wonder we all suffer from burnout at least once during our career.
Burnout is real. It can feel overwhelming with mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. But it is also survivable. If you are feeling like the weight of the grant-seeking world is on your shoulders here are some excellent resources to help you through to the other side.
- My cohost Kimberly and I both highly recommend this book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski. While it’s geared towards women, everyone benefits from the science behind stress (these ladies love data) and useful methods to deal with it. https://www.emilynagoski.com/home
- Season 3, Episode 3 of the Fundraising HayDay podcast includes an interview with the Nagoski sisters. We laugh, we cry, we sing – you don’t want to miss this one. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/fundraising-hayday/id1441248423?i=1000478449675
- Our fellow grant peeps, Trish Bachman, Bethany Planton, and Johna Rodgers, are studying burnout in the grant profession. Their research is just underway, but they share their initial findings on a webinar hosted by Foundant. It’s fabulous to know you’re not alone. https://resources.foundant.com/education-webinars-for-nonprofits/you-are-not-alone-burnout-is-real-relevant-and-recoverable-3
- On our latest podcast episode, Kimberly and I interview our friend Pat Duboise. She’s a 20-plus year veteran of the grants profession who recognized the signs of burnout in her career. Instead of ignoring it, or worse, giving in to it, she plotted a course to move beyond it. She has some great advice forged from experience. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/fundraising-hayday/id1441248423?i=1000489302750
In my personal experience, one of the best ways to avoid burnout out is communication and transparency between you and your supervisor. I was especially blessed during the 12 years I worked for the City of Alpharetta. Every year, during my annual evaluation, I would meet with my boss. At the end of every chat he would wrap it up with this question: what can I do to keep you engaged here? He was always so afraid I’d get bored and move on somewhere else. The reality is, there is nothing boring about the grants field. But I appreciated the question and his willingness to always let me take on new challenges. He didn’t take my hard work for granted and made sure to tell me and anyone who would listen that I was appreciated. If I had a challenge and needed someone with a little more office clout to step in, he would listen and handle what needed to be done. A boss like that goes a very long way in preventing burnout. If you have a boss or board who does all this, be sure to let them know how fabulous they are. Don’t have a boss like this? Maybe anonymously slip them this article.
I’ve also found that surrounding yourself with fellow grant professionals helps tremendously. There is nothing like having a colleague who speaks your language and understands your daily frustrations. They can be a listening ear, sounding board, and giver of good advice. Haven’t found your grant person yet? Drop Kimberly and me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We promise, no creepy phone calls from inside the house.
DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 3 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on season 1 & 2 and stay up to date on the new season here.
Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.