Burnout at Work: How to Make Resilient Nonprofit Marketers

Burnout At Work: How to Make Resilient Nonprofit Marketers

It’s no secret that the nonprofit sector as a whole has a burnout problem: overworked, underpaid, an unhealthy work-life balance or lack of personal boundaries. But not every nonprofit worker feels burnout at work the same way, and marketing and communications staff are especially vulnerable to running their tanks on empty.

Whether you’re a lone wolf marketer or part of a team, your role likely includes some of the following challenges:

  • Always feeling “plugged in” and reachable on your devices
  • Extra pressure to respond or react instantly to PR or messaging issues
  • Wrangling projects and feedback across different parts of the organization
  • Working on tasks that are never really finished, like social media management
  • Managing constantly changing technology and best practices
  • Not having a clear plan or measurable goals to assess progress
  • Dealing with last-minute requests to be creative or make new materials
  • Relying on free (but unreliable) tools or labor to get important things done

(Even non-marketers probably recognize similar issues in their positions. Fundraiser burnout is a thing. Executive directors are not immune.)

If you think you might be headed toward burnout—or if you’ve already arrived, bought a house and have been living here awhile—learn to identify some of the symptoms of burnout at work and get tips for managing them as a nonprofit marketer.

Signs of Nonprofit Burnout

Burnout is more than not wanting to roll out of bed in the morning or dreaming about a new job on a tropical island somewhere. It can creep into your daily work (and non-work) life in ways that you might not expect or attribute to your mental health.

  • General forgetfulness despite lists and calendars
  • A drop in productivity across your tasks
  • Feeling irritable, even with the small stuff
  • Having a defeatist attitude where you once felt confident
  • Mindless online scrolling to occupy your brain
  • Sense of resentment or being unappreciated
  • Constant worry about doing something wrong
  • Telling yourself that your work doesn’t matter

I asked nonprofit guru and author Beth Kanter if she thinks there are signs and symptoms of burnout that are specific to digital-focused marketing roles:

In my book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, we created a nonprofit job burnout assessment to help educate about the symptoms. The symptoms fall in several large categories, including physical, emotional, and attitude. If you are working in digital, the added stress of being online all the time can definitely contribute to stress which leads to burnout.

Beth Kanter

Wondering if you tick all the boxes of nonprofit burnout? Try out the assessment and consider sharing it with your colleagues as a way to check-in with each other.

Resiliency Tactics to Fight Burnout at Work

Dealing with burnout at work is doubly tough: thinking about your job is draining AND you need to find ways of doing your job a little differently. Managing marketing burnout doesn’t have to mean huge changes though. Here are a few ways to get back on track and build your resilience going forward.

Limit your online time

You probably can’t completely unplug in any nonprofit role these days, but marketers can be more strategic about when you connect and for how long. This is true for social media burnout as well as compulsive email checking, where creating more structure or blocks of time in your day dedicated to these tasks can help you stay focused. I asked Beth Kanter how marketers can start building resilience, and she had a similar tip to share.

Start to put some small limits on your online time. One thing I personally found helpful was not to use my phone as my alarm clock. That way it wasn’t the first thing I did in the morning (I would check my mail after shutting off the alarm) or the last thing at night.

Beth Kanter

Added bonus: freeing up even a little time in your day gives you a chance to get moving or get some fresh air for a few minutes before starting a new task.

Do more to manage your inbox

Speaking of emails, what’s the current state of your inbox? If it’s a wild jungle in there, you could be creating unnecessary stress. There are lots of ways to manage email depending on how many messages you get, their urgency and your communication style. 

While I like to organize with a folder system and schedule reminders for future follow-up, you could experiment with automated filtering, try the 5-sentence method, or take another track altogether and suggest improving your organization’s internal communications. (Sometimes an email should have been a meeting, and vice versa.)

Learn a new skill

It might seem counter-intuitive, but adding to your work skill set can be a benefit rather than a potential burden. (Like getting asked to take on more tasks.) There’s evidence to suggest that learning helps us manage stress, especially when it helps you overcome a challenge or gives you a “break” from your normal day. 

And the skill doesn’t have to be marketing-related! Consider online courses about other areas of nonprofit work (NonprofitReady is a good place to start) or a workshop with a local professionals group. There’s a ton of online and offline training opportunities for nonprofit professionals.

Stock up on evergreen content

Don’t fuel your burnout trying to constantly come up with new content. Stockpile evergreen (or timeless) stories, quotes, articles, video clips and snippets of text that you can use when your editorial calendar is looking a little barren. 

Evergreen content not only makes your life easier when things get busy, but it can also have long-term SEO perks when you publish it on your website or blog. Get started with our ten ideas for social media posts or by simply re-purposing content from other places like your annual report.

Store your great ideas for later

If you’re the type of person who has more ideas than time or budget, don’t toss that creative energy in the trash or on a bunch of sticky notes you’ll never circle back to. (In my case, I have a bad habit of creating endless email drafts where I write up brainstorms or blog post ideas.) Burnout might tell you that something can’t be done right now, but you never know what opportunities might come up in a few months or a year.

Instead of the piecemeal approach, create a place where you store your new ideas for later—even if you think they’re silly or have no chance of pulling it off. I use a simple Google Doc to keep track of ideas for different marketing channels and campaigns. It helps me clear my head and move on to something else knowing that it’s safely tucked away, plus I can turn to it whenever I’m not in a very creative mood.

Scale your marketing plan

You could have too much on your marketing plate. Or maybe you (or your boss) bit off more than you can chew. Some of the most common marketing strategy mistakes include not accounting for current or ongoing projects, continuing to spend time on unsuccessful tactics, and forgetting about implementation. No wonder you’re feeling burned out!

The good news is that marketing plans are meant to be living documents and should be adjusted to match your current reality. It might mean having an honest conversation with a manager or board, but scaling back your plan or breaking it down into manageable pieces can help you make more strategic decisions without sacrificing “human resources” (i.e. you and your coworkers).

Be Humans, Not Superheroes

Being resilient doesn’t mean you have to have superhero strength. It’s human to have our work lives impact our thoughts and emotions, especially when you work for a cause you’re passionate about. But burnout can mean that our minds and bodies are weighed down in ways that affect health and happiness. Taking the time to identify what’s going on and find ways of managing your work effectively will benefit you, your pride in your work, and the mission.

If you’ve battled burnout at work, what tips or tactics have you found to be helpful? Or if you’re already feeling burned out, what would help you the most right now? Let’s build each other up in the comments.