3 Ways to Care for Yourself so You Can Care for Your Agency
A few months back, Angie and Linda Wastyn worked on a huge grant application together to provide child abuse prevention services in the local community. Passing it back and forth for days, Linda mentioned that she had to take a break before putting the finishing touches on it. She found the facts and information overwhelming and had to get her head out of thinking about child sex abuse, neglect, emotional trauma, and nearly every horrible thing you can possibly imagine happening to young children.
Angie was taken aback. Knowing those stats off the top of her head, she can rattle them off at the drop of a hat and often does whenever she has any opportunity to talk about how we must do better for our kids. The stories of children healing from abuse or adults overcoming significant trauma to break the cycle make those statistics real. They are the stories of what the Child Abuse Council does. She tells them like stories of her children during the day, forgetting that not everyone lives in this world.
Like many people who work in nonprofits, we often forget to give ourselves space to acknowledge that the material we spend hours reading, researching and reflecting on represents some of the greatest tragedies in our nation.
Angie never thought about how these things might impact our mental health. After all, she does not work in the trenches with the family support workers, in the office with the therapists, or in the interview room with the forensic interviewer. She’s a fundraiser, in the office, at a computer, and meeting with donors. To think that she experiences secondary trauma and stress seems ridiculous compared the front-line workers.
Fundraising professionals have a unique position in their agencies. We provide essential work in a confusing job that leaves many professionals feeling alienated. In fact, many work in offices with only one fundraiser, meaning they don’t have a team to talk through ideas, share successes, and mourn losses. Combine this with the fact that we work with traumatized people trying to solve difficult and complex problems, and this alienation leaves us vulnerable to stress.
Compounding this stress is the fact that funding to solve these incredibly challenging issues is dwindling rapidly while the needs grow exponentially. We know that, left untreated, these needs can erode the foundation of our community. So, we are challenged to make up this difference with more funds, knowing the real consequences if we fail. We know what every dollar does. We know how essential every service is. After all, we have all the stats to back it up! We know that failure to meet the goals will have a real consequence for our programs, for our staff and ultimately for the children (or people) who need us most.
It’s a heavy load to carry alone. And one we often carry quietly, sometimes without knowing it’s there.
The good news is that today we know more about brain science and the impact of stress than we did yesterday, and we will know even more tomorrow.
So what can you do to care for yourself to alleviate some of the stresses of fundraising?
1. Small Things Make A Big Impact:
The small things we do every day can make a big difference to individuals, peer groups, offices and organizations in our community. The very latest brain science helps us understand why and how. Neurobiology and epigenetics may seem a strange topic for a blog about fund development, but the truth is understanding the impact and prevalence of chronic and toxic stress may just be the foundation for addressing every major public health problem so many of us fight to solve every day.
Going back to Angie’s experience with Linda: what Linda role modeled in their work together was a commitment to self-care. Linda knew herself well enough to understand that she had reached her limit. She needed to be compassionate toward herself and set a temporary boundary around how much more inundated in tragedy she could be. Whatever she did during that time, she took that break which allowed her to sustain her commitment to the work we all know she does so well.
So, take a break. Schedule time to get out of your office and sit outside. Schedule lunch with a donor or friend you really enjoy on a day that you know you will need a pick me up.
2. Connect, Connect, Connect.
According to modern neuroscientific research, the most effective way to combat stress, build resilience and improve our mental health every day is connection. In fact, research shows that our biological response to stress is to reach out and connect with others. Relationships are the BIGGEST mitigating factor for stress. Healthy connections mean that people deal well with stress because the brain has built a natural defense against stress by building relationships.
Whether holding the door for someone, asking about your children’s day at the dinner table, bringing a coworker her favorite coffee, or complimenting your partner’s special talents, we can all make intentional and meaningful connections that build resilience and help us cope with the stress in our days.
3. Network With Each Other.
We connect to each other by the nature of our work. Fundraising depends on our ability to mindfully connect with each other and engage in activities that cultivate this connection. Showing up, even when your calendar is crowded, to share space, knowledge, best practices, ideas, failures and successes with your fellow fundraisers in the proverbial trenches is HOW we keep ourselves bright and healthy and strong enough to do our important work in the community. Make sure you put AFP events on your calendar for the next year. This is an excellent space to meet other people and learn from one another!
How do you manage the stress of your daily work?
Angie Kendall, Director of Development and Communications at the Child Abuse Council, is truly passionate about communicating their mission. She is founding member of the Eastern Iowa Western Illinois Trauma Informed Care Consortiumwhich she continues to lead today. Other passions of Angie’s include her family, Iowa State Cyclones, boating, and great snacks. On any given day in the office, you may find Angie planning a special event, coordinating media, designing marketing materials, managing the education and prevention department, raising funds to keep the agency thriving, or playing an elaborate practical joke. Known as the resident Innovator, Angie is always on the lookout for creative resolutions to agency and community issues, and works with diligence and heart to connect people, projects, and ideas.
Jennifer Vondracek, Community Resilience Program Manager at the Child Abuse Council, coordinates the Eastern Iowa – Western Illinois Trauma Informed Care Consortium and builds Community Resilience. Her background in mindfulness, contemplative practice and yoga is a gift to the work of the Eastern Iowa - Western Illinois Trauma Informed Care Consortium. When she isn’t meditating, traveling to Wisconsin or leading yoga for teens and adults, you can find her with her three beautiful daughters. Dedicated to great breakfast food, good coffee and a restorative Saturday afternoon nap, she is known for her loud laugh, a hugging habit and her skills at finding the perfect GIF for every occasion. Jennifer favorite quote comes from the wise Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
Learn more about the impact of stress on the brain and how early stress sets the stage for the rest of life here.