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Grantmakers can help with nonprofit burnout

The following is a letter to the editor originally published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, written by Sharisse Kimbro, Program Officer, Relationship Abuse, and Carly Keller, Manager, Leadership Activation and Nonprofit Capacity Building for The Allstate Foundation.

A woman with a concerned look on her face works remotely in a coffee shop.

Foundations must join in to ease stress at nonprofits.

May 6, 2024

In a recent op-ed published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, nonprofit founder Sayu Bhojwani wrote about the causes and prevalence of "burnout" experienced by women of color who lead nonprofits. Her sentiments resonated with The Allstate Foundation employees Sharisse Kimbro and Carly Keller. Below is a letter to the editor they penned to share ways funders can address these issues and explain why The Allstate Foundation is providing unrestricted funds to nonprofits to take care of their wellness needs.

To the Editor:

Exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma are all unfortunately common in nonprofits. In fact, 95 percent of nonprofit leaders worry about burnout. That's why Sayu Bhojwani's call for change was so poignant ━ and necessary. ("Women of Color Leaders Are Exhausted. Philanthropy Needs to Step Up," February 27.)

Limited funds and resources as well as changing work environments can cause stress, as Bhojwani notes. Grant makers can exacerbate these problems with burdensome reporting requirements, restricted funding, and lengthy grant applications.

The stress, along with poor pay, subpar benefits, and heavy workloads, make it hard for nonprofits to retain good staff. Not only is it time-consuming and expensive to hire somebody new, but staff shortages cause gaps in services as well as a loss of institutional knowledge and shared history. Ultimately, this slows progress towards societal change.

Bhojwani is exactly right when she argues that to ease the burden, grant makers should invest in the emotional health of nonprofit leaders and retreats that "nourish our bodies and souls with rest, reflection, and relationship building." They can do that by funding sabbaticals and wellness programs geared towards a nonprofit's unique culture and needs. Investing in infrastructure and leadership development can ease workloads and help leaders do their jobs better. And providing more general operating grants and avoiding additional and unnecessary paperwork will help ease huge workloads.

Our organization, The Allstate Foundation, is working to address these problems on multiple fronts. For example, we offer free leadership development to nonprofit leaders and staff. And last year, we awarded about $400,000 in grants for wellness programs to nonprofits serving BIPOC survivors of gender-based violence. Each of the 134 organizations that received a grant chose the types of support that would best help their staff, including equine therapy, staff retreats, and wellness bonuses for employees to use as they see fit.

Grant makers looking to join us in this effort can start by asking their nonprofit partners what support they need to create sustainable and effective wellness initiatives. They are the experts. We just need to learn from and invest in them.

Supporting our nonprofit partners' emotional health

The Allstate Foundation invests in positive change to help communities thrive. We empower youth, work to advance racial equity and disrupt the cycle of relationship abuse.

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