By Lindsey Padjen
Over the past year we found ourselves more frequently speaking to grantee leadership about wellness - how they are doing day to day. This topic is arising naturally as leaders feel comfortable or compelled to share their challenges and we are more proactively asking them about it.
Whether it’s because we are listening more carefully now or because it’s on the rise, we are hearing more and more leaders share how they are struggling or are close to burning out. It is alarming to see the best, boldest, and brightest minds of our sector, those who we are putting our faith and resources in to create and guide solutions for the most pressing of problems, working in a way that is not only unsustainable but is harmful for them. And yet, is it surprising?
We - and this is a big WE - we the philanthropic sector expect so much of them. We expect social entrepreneurs to create solutions that scale at a bargain price, while measuring and achieving maximum impact. We expect them to be available and responsive to all funders; to build strong replication and adoption relationships, to maintain a top notch team as talent increasingly moves to the higher paying, profit sector. I’d say this is an equation that clearly leads to burnout. How do we adjust our expectations to something more sustainable so that the best and brightest of this sector stay healthy and high performing? How do we first do no harm and then build in infrastructure to support wellness?
This year we have also seen responses to this challenge that provide hope and motivation towards change. Specifically, The Wellbeing Project, is highlighting with data the need for wellbeing to be prioritized and is catalyzing an infrastructure of support for the field. Here, at Peery Foundation, we have piloted a project providing access to mental health for grantee staff who are the frontlines advocating for justice for their community. We are lifted to see some early results on this pilot project and participate in this proactive contribution to wellbeing.
There isn’t a rubric (yet) on how to respond to this challenge. It seems logical that we must connect with social entrepreneurs and leaders in the social change sector as people first. We can ask ourselves what practices we and others in the field perpetuate that lead to dwindling health. We can seek out ways to provide additional support by asking, “What else can we do for you?” And, we can behave as we would towards anyone in our lives who is primed for burnout - treat them with concern and care.
When You Burn Out While Changing the World by Joana Breidenbach