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Addressing Burnout As Christian Fundraisers

Updated: Apr 26

“Burnout” has become something of a buzzword in recent years, and while our culture often talks about work-life balances and healthy habits, it lacks a biblical understanding of work and rest.


At Canaan Group & Associates, we know that God created work as an important way to bring glory to Him and serve our world. We also know that He gave rest to man–just read any of the Old Testament passages about the weekly Sabbath, Sabbath year, or the Year of Jubilee. Also, God rested after accomplishing the good work of creating the world.


A burned-out forest floor.

Therefore, we have a biblical precedent for work-life balance, but it goes much deeper than just taking time off from work. Biblical Sabbaths are about trusting the Lord, worshiping Him, serving others and creation, and for some of us, saying “no” to the idol of work. Desiring the best for His people, God established these rhythms for the Israelites’ (and our) good.

Living and working in this fallen world means that we should anticipate thorns in our work. In fact, every member of the CG&A team can recall long, difficult seasons that required patience, grit, remembering the mission, and trusting the Lord. However, there’s no denying that fundraisers often “burn out.” Some studies show that the average lifespan of a fundraiser is 18-24 months, and others suggest it’s now closer to 16 months.


Burnout can be described as an extensive period of difficulty at your job to the point where you might struggle getting out of bed or routinely consider quitting your job. Some signs include:

  • Difficulty making decisions or accomplishing tasks that used to be manageable; decision fatigue

  • Unable to emotionally plug in with family/home life

  • Considering quitting your job often out of desperation, not because of signs that God has gifted you for/is calling you to something else

  • Lack of satisfaction from work-related achievements that once brought joy

  • These signs continuing for an extended period of time


In the world of fundraising, losing a sense of the mission could lead to burnout. Remembering why you do what you do and feeling a part of the mission help with long-term resilience.


Additionally, burnout is much more likely to occur when the organization has unhealthy structures that create unsustainable work environments. The good news for fundraisers? The problem often isn’t that you don’t enjoy fundraising itself or that you’re not a good fundraiser. The good news for presidents, executive directors, and boards is that actively working to create healthy organizations goes a long way in recruiting and retaining excellent development teams.


Here are some symptoms we often see that indicate an unhealthy organizational culture:

  • Each year brings increased annual fund goals and more responsibilities without additional resources, staff additions, or pay increases.

  • Various departments in the organization increase their spending, expecting the development team and donors to fill the budget gap.

  • Leadership and staff outside of the development team see fundraising as just a means to an end. When those outside of the fundraising office hold the “vending machine” view of donors, the organization lacks unity on the philosophy of fundraising.

  • The fundraising team is not listened to, does not have the ability to speak into strategic plans, or are excluded from budgeting discussions.

  • The development team lacks relationships with executive leadership and the board of directors.

  • Continuing education in the field is not provided/funded.


If you’re a major gifts officer or development director in an organization with these problems, determine if culture-change in the organization is possible. Is there a chance to show coworkers how the development office fits into the bigger picture? What steps can you take to grow your relationship with the president and board? If you’re an executive director, president, or board member, know that your leadership plays an extensive role in creating a healthy, life-giving work culture.


Here are some tips we tell all fundraisers (also applicable for organization leaders):

  • If you’re the development leader, ask for the ability to speak into vision, direction, and strategic planning.

  • Seek strong relationships with board members and the president of your organization.

  • Routinely take long vacations. It can take a week to shut down from work mode, especially for driven individuals.

  • Don’t feel guilty about taking vacation; we have a biblical precedent for rest! Remember the story of two lumberjacks who race to chop the most wood that day: the one who stopped to sharpen his axe throughout the day chopped much more.

  • Seek outside help and encouragement from consultants, the donors themselves, peer groups, and friends.

  • Hire a third-person consultant group to assess and kindly but truthfully speak into every level of the organization.


We at CG&A have worked with one development leader who doesn’t give out his/her cell number and unplugs at 5:00 p.m. every day. Some folks get frustrated by this and not everyone should take this approach, but this individual knows his/her strengths and takes care of individual emotional and physical needs to avoid burnout.


We’ve also seen some clients get to a point of desperation, where it feels difficult to breathe, but they can’t find the space to get away fast enough. However, this is avoidable with a proper, biblically grounded, work-life balance and a healthy organizational culture.

 

Establishing a healthy organizational culture is no small challenge. At Canaan Group & Associates, we want to see your organization and personnel thrive for the sake of your mission. To learn more on how CG&A can partner with you, contact us today.



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