Simple tips for managing nonprofit stressMissionBox co-founder and CEO Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk talks about managing the stress and pressures that commonly come with working for a nonprofit in her new column Self-care: Simple Tips for Managing Nonprofit Stress. We invite MissionBox readers to share their ideas and responses, which may be published here as well.
The opinions offered here are based on the author's personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation.
I started my career in nonprofits running a group home while I was in college. Teenage girls were placed in the home by the local human services agency because they were at risk and “out of control” — many came from violent households and childhoods of sexual abuse. By the time they were placed in the group home, they were heavily involved in drug misuse, prostitution, chronic school absences, abusive relationships — you name it. These young women had experienced some of the most difficult challenges anyone can face and they showed all the signs of not making it out of childhood in one piece.
During the two years I worked as a “mom” in charge of these teenagers, I learned a lot about the darker side of life. I cared deeply for those girls and I suffered along with each one as they moved through their difficult journeys in the state care system. Most girls stayed a very short time at our group home before being placed in sometimes questionable foster care or sent back to homes that were still unsafe.
As a care provider, I slowly became used to high levels of nonstop responsibility and the emotional pressure that came with it. Like so many folks in the nonprofit field, I also learned first-hand about the daily toll of trying to do the right thing without enough support and resources. At the same time, I was largely unaware of the impact it was having on me, especially my stress levels
But I learned something from those girls, something I didn’t get in my own childhood: that a willingness to be silly and have fun, even for a brief time, could provide a respite from anxiety, loss and sadness.
We would crank the music up and dance all over the house, jumping on the furniture until we collapsed in laughter. We had cake decorating contests, dress-up Sunday dinners and did each other’s hair in wild and crazy fashions. I’d hide inexpensive treats all over the house and have a scavenger hunt. These teens who had so few moments of childhood fun soaked up these rare chances to be carefree kids, and so did I.
So, thanks to my time at the group home, I found one way of healing: create and welcome opportunities to smile, laugh and be silly. Such occasions are easy to produce and can lower everyone’s stress.
Be a little foolish, once in a while. These moments can bring joy and hope and even a little healing, for both service recipients and care providers.
CEO, MissionBox Inc.
What do our nonprofit readers think? We would love to hear about your own ways of handling nonprofit stress. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.