The executive director’s position isn’t a stressful one because she has to work for a volunteer board. It takes a toll because the top job in any nonprofit is a jack- or jill-of-all-trades position. As executive director, you’re responsible for everything: programs, board relations, planning, finances, fundraising, buildings and grounds. And the list goes on.
The recent MiamiHerald.com article “Work-Life Demands Intense for CEOs at Nonprofits” (http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/29/3899720/work-life-demands-intense-for.html) covered this issue nicely.
Here are a number of tips from nonprofit executives that explain how they handle the stresses of the job:
Executive Director Marsha Modrell (Flagstaff, Ariz.) has 30-plus years in the executive’s position. “I do know there were times when I was able to manage the demands of the job better than others,” she said. Modrell said she juggles work-life demands most effectively when she:
- Makes the commitment to do the best she can at any given time. “I realized that would have to be enough,” Modrell said.
- Maintains a network of friends. It’s important to have people willing to listen to you whenever you feel you are up against a wall, she said.
- Hires great people. “You have to employ key staff that understand and accept the responsibilities of their positions, and are willing to discuss difficult issues and disagree with each other and with me when it matters,” Modrell said.
- Has other interests. Modrell said she has maintained outside interests and hobbies that she enjoys and that provide a diversion from the stresses that are part of working and living a life. For her, this includes walking, gardening and enjoying her grandchildren, she said.
- Accepts what she can’t change. “It helps me to remember ‘It is what it is’ and I just need to stay focused and moving forward,” Modrell said. A healthy balance in your life is easier to maintain when you realize you can’t change everything that you think is incorrect or wrong in the system in which you work, she said.
Executive Director Jane Wear (Warsaw, Ind.) said that when her husband was ill and she was away from work for an extended period she had many “a-ha” moments about balancing work-life demands.
“The executive has got to delegate and develop responsible people she can delegate to,” she said. “We had a vice president who I had groomed. His job description required him to become interim CEO due to the absence of the CEO. He definitely kept the day-to-day items going here.”
- Puts the tech down — and, again, delegates. “Many CEOs I come into contact with are taking calls and e-mails during meetings away from the office,” Wear said. “It is like they are irreplaceable and no one can make decisions in their absence.”
She said this can make the organization vulnerable if something happens to the CEO. “If we train others to do the important things, they will be able to handle things in our absence,” Wear said.
- Has healthy priorities. “When my husband died, my priorities began to change in terms of work/life,” Wear said. “We can work our tails off, but in the end what does that mean if we have not devoted enough time to our spouse, our children or even getting some enjoyment from life? Many executives don’t get that.”
- Organizes. “For me, the other item that really takes off the stress is keeping a list going,” Wear said. “I sleep better with a to-do list because it makes me less apt to forget something important. This makes me more productive at work.”
- Plans ahead for vacations. “I don’t ever lose vacation time because of the ‘use it or lose it’ rule,” Wear said. She plans well in advance so she can work her schedule around her vacations.
Finally, a California executive director said she enjoys a little pure escapism by reaching for her go-to stress-relief moves.
“I’m fortunate because I don’t have too much trouble balancing work and home life... and I’m able to leave most of my stress at work when I leave. Having said that, there are times, like recently, when we were hit with one thing after another.”
“I listen to loud music and play video games,” she said. “For me, getting immersed in a virtual world where I can shoot down enemy soldiers and not get hurt is a great release.”
Her final tip: “Sometimes I’ll just go someplace where I can be alone and scream — that’s a great release too.”