Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nonprofit Donor Burnout

More than likely you have read quite a bit about burnout when it comes to employees or staff of non profits. Rarely, however, do you hear about the flip side of the coin and hear someone discuss donor burnout.

As a donor to many different non profits over the years I can attest to the fact that there is a real frustration with how a non profit handles their end of the agreement.

Supporting a nonprofit as a donor is a very serious commitment I do not take lightly. I have to be sure that what the nonprofit stands for is something I can be fully committed to.

If I take the next step and join a board of directors then I am literally giving a piece of myself away. While this might seem to some as being melodramatic I can assure you that my wife of twenty-three years views this quite different! Whatever I give away of myself to supporting a non profit leaves less time and quite frankly energy for her. This is a big deal!

My gift and I do see what I give as a gift, goes far beyond just my time, my energy, my talent and what most nonprofits seem to be fixated on i.e. money. It is actually something deeper and more serious and for me part of my soul. How can you quantify the worth of self someone gives to your organization?

Unfortunately, few nonprofits I have run across have ever really comprehended this level of giving or found the way to respond to where I believe that they “got it.” So I seemed destine to repeat the same old cycle:

First I find a nonprofit I think is doing good work and get excited about what they are doing and support their cause. I might attend an event or give a donation.

Second, I learn more about what the organization does and get closer to the executive director and/or staff. I might find myself helping more by donating money or sometimes I find it more rewarding to meeting a specific need of the organization.

Eventually my level of giving and interest is noticed by others and at some point I might be asked to consider being on the board. This is the critical point! The older I get the more picky I have become and quite frankly more guarded, because I know if I join a board I will consider myself being all in.

If I join I quickly learn the good, the bad and the ugly about the organization. Sometimes this in and of itself is a huge disappointment. If however there are no hidden land mines then I quickly adjust to learning more about the organization and I gage the commitment levels of others on the board while learning about the excitement and energy level of the staff running the programs.

Many times after giving lots of time and energy and money I have found that the executive director and staff begin to take for granted past donations and get comfortable being the recipients of a generous nature and just expect it to continue forever regardless of their performance or outcomes. A disconnect begins slowly. There is not the level of excitement. Everyone still knows the reason they are there is to help the cause but at this point I generally hit a wall. I don’t see others around me willing to push as hard as I am or I begin to feel like my time is just being wasted. Staff slows down and only wants to push so far. The reason is that since they are working with an all volunteer board they do not want to have to do most of the work if the volunteer board stops pushing.

At this point if I am still on the board I will rotate off and normally my giving level drops. I also have a tendency to be reflective in nature. While I am not totally second guessing my judgment I do tend to mull over if the donations I’ve given in the past and generally draw a conclusion in my own mind if it was all worth it.

I wish I could end saying I felt good after all this but honestly answer is that of feeling more confused at times than being reassured that my personal commitment was met with an equal level of acceptance. Strange isn’t it?

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