It’s not easy being a fundraiser in the best of times, and these are not the best of times. The relentless pressure to make your numbers in an organizational environment that is unsupportive (and in some cases downright hostile) can cause enormous strains on your resilience. And nobody’s resilience is inexhaustible.

Supercoach  and researcher Nick Petrie has interviewed thousands of workers across hundreds of organizations and has identified three levels of burnout. See if any of these describe you:

1st degree burn – heavy period of stress, feelings of overwhelm, but continuing to work effectively;

2nd degree burn – chronic stress, feelings of fatigue along with decreasing motivation and effectiveness. Moving into ‘survival’ mode. Home life might be suffering; and

3rd degree burn – mind and body start to shut down, simple tasks become unmanageable, emotions become unpredictable and hard to control. Getting up in the morning and preparing to go to work feels almost unbearable.

A couple of important points here: if you’re burned out, it’s not your fault. High performers tend to assume if they just worked smarter or if they worked more hours, they could overcome any obstacle. We all have a natural capacity for resilience, and with support from a coach or therapist you can expand that capacity up to a point.

Unfortunately, many of the drivers of burnout are out of your hands. They flow from a stress-filled organizational culture that elevates productivity and output above all other values. It’s a culture that celebrates exceptional performance and may subtly (or overtly) frown on worker well-being and work/life balance. As fundraisers we’ve all experienced the satisfaction of reaching tough fundraising targets, only to be ‘rewarded’ with even higher fundraising targets.

So what can you do? [Hint: it’s not about yoga rooms and staff happy hours.]

For first degree burnout, prioritize self-care. Take more breaks, limit meetings, don’t read or send emails outside work hours. Invest time and energy in hobbies or other pursuits that feed you and support restoration.

For second degree burnout, work on your boundaries, and practice saying ‘no’ more often. Enforce limits both on your working hours and on your boss’s demands. If this is impossible in your current job, it might be worth considering making a move. If you don’t have a coach, this is a good time to seek one out.

For third degree burnout, you need to take more drastic action. Consider consulting a therapist, who can assess you for depression or other disorders. Take time off work.  Serious time, not just a long weekend. “Rest is necessary,” Petrie says, “but not sufficient. There must be true change or the burnout pattern will repeat.”

There are plenty of organizations that are burnout factories, and there are plenty that aren’t. Culture change is hard, and the failure rate of culture change efforts is high. If you’re in second degree burnout in a burnout factory, don’t wait around for things to get better.

Stress is good, up to a point. It motivates us to focus, to aim higher to develop new skills and capacities. Taken too far, stress flips from being medicine to being poison.

You are not your job.

Learn more about Nick Petrie and his research at: