Sustainability, Impact & Excellence


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How to Survive the Holidays (Without Spending a Pile of Money)!

Unless you *have* a pile of money you just dont know what to do with...

Seriously though, as the holidays draw close, life becomes a bit more frantic.  Especially for us in the helping professions.   My friends who run food programs are squirreling away the nonperishable food donations because they know that’s what will sustain them during the leaner summer months when hunger is not on the forefront of the nation’s mind.  My shelter friends are wrangling up gifts for the families that stay in their programs.   My friends in the arts are in the final stages of preparing the holiday shows and regardless of what field you happen to be in if you are reliant on donations you are probably getting that year-end holiday appeal in the mail…like RIGHT NOW.  We are all in survival mode.  

It is a hard time of year for folks in the nonprofit world.  This is when a lot of us see demand spike,  there is often an increased awareness both for the needs of our programs and an increased desire to engage and help our programs.  It's all good stuff but man, it can be exhausting.  My wish for you is that in the midst of all this, that you carve out time for you. Maybe burn the candle at just one end…just for a little while.  If you think you can’t because there is just too much work to be done, get help.   I hear you “it's not that easy”, I know.  I’ve been there.

Every year my husband and I go away for either a long weekend or a mid-week escape for our anniversary, always just before Christmas.  I do this for several reasons, first and foremost because I love my husband and I like to spend time with him.  But from the work standpoint, it gives me a deadline that’s driven by me, not the workplace.  All those things I have to complete before Christmas are done a week early.  It clears up space to deal with actual emergencies—which when you clear out all the noise and clutter of a busy month, are actually quite manageable.   When I first started taking time off I thought it would stress out my employees, turns out (you may want to sit down for this), they could do their jobs without me hovering about.  I was careful about honoring time off requests and we learned how to rotate staffing schedules so no one felt like they were carrying the burden of the organization during the holidays.  The only thing I missed out on was first dibs on the box of chocolates our accounting firm would send while I was out.   I know that strategy won’t work for everyone.  For organizations with events or major publicity campaigns that are tied to the holidays, it may not be feasible to have the CEO or Development person gone, but please—if that’s you,  pinkie swear you will take a block of time off in January.  We need you to be healthy, in good spirits and ready to face whatever the new year brings our way.  Your community needs you too.

If you are feeling massively overwhelmed here are some ideas that may give you a quick win:

1.       Find a way to get one thing you hate (or just really dread having to deal with) off your plate.  JUST ONE.  You can either “swallow the frog” and do it yourself-maybe it’s a call to “that donor” (yea, you know the one); maybe its an uncomfortable conversation with a staffer that you’ve been putting off, or maybe (if you are like me) its clearing all the clutter off your desk.  If it’s a bigger project or one that does not absolutely require that YOU be the one doing it, see if you can delegate to someone else.  Is it a task that someone else can take care of quickly?  Is there a volunteer who can lend a hand?  Is it something that you outsource to a contractor or consultant so its just done for you.  It’s amazing how getting that “one thing” off your plate can reduce your overall stress level.

2.       Add gratitude to your to-do list.  I know it makes me sound like a hippie but I swear it works.  When you write out your daily list of things to get done, make a note to say thank you to someone in your org—staffer, volunteer or board member.  It doesn’t have to be a big production, just stop by their office or shoot them an email (but in person is better) that says (for example) “Hey Jim, I really appreciate that you start getting the coffee going in the morning.  It's really thoughtful of you to do that.”  Easy, right?  If you are a bit of a “stay in my office” kind of person, this might feel a little awkward at first but it will get easier and it does a lot to change the culture in the office to be a little kinder (and who couldn’t use a little more kindness during the holidays).

3.       Think about the new year, what’s your top priority for the next 12 months?  Is to increase general operating funds, launch a new program, generate more funding to sustain an existing one?  Even if you have a bunch of ideas, just pick one.  Now for that one thing, what’s the next step you need to take to make it happen?  Again, just the ONE next step.  Chances are its sending and email or making a phone call…maybe its getting an appointment on the calendar.  Whatever it is, do it.  It will probably take less than 5 minutes and you’ve already put the wheels into motion for 2018. 


There you have it.  Jenn’s keys to surviving the holidays.  Go home at some point to see the  people you love, get one dreaded thing off your plate, say thank you to someone and take the next step on something that either really excites you or is crucial your program.  Sometimes the hardest part is finding the space and time to make a plan.  Luckily, there’s help for that.  For a free consult on how to make your nonprofit better, more effective and make your life easier, drop me a line at


Wishing you a warm and wonderful holidays season!