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October 24, 2016 – On Building Resiliency

Teresa HuizarGood morning and happy Monday.  The holiday season is upon us.  Well, not really, since according to the calendar it’s still just October.  But walk into any big box store and virtually any supermarket, and you’ll see that the holidays have arrived even earlier this year. The holidays are lovely, but they can also be incredibly stressful, and often, they mean an increased workload for CACs and MDTs. So I’d like to take a moment today and return to the idea of building resiliency—in your centers, among your team members and in your communities.

As I’ve noted before, the idea of building resiliency is not a new one, but it is new to NCA’s Standards for Accredited Members. The 2017 Standards include as an essential component of the Organizational Capacity Standard that CACs must promote “employee well-being by providing training and information regarding the effects of vicarious trauma, providing techniques for building resiliency, and maintaining organizational and supervisory strategies to address vicarious trauma and its impact on staff.” National Children's Alliance Standards for Accredited Members, 2017 Edition, p. 50.

It seems like caretaking ought to come easily to nonprofits—after all, we are in the business of caretaking for others, so why not for ourselves?  But the fact is that most nonprofits struggle mightily with this concept.  A recent opinion piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy examines the nonprofit mindset, and the reason why so many of us take care of everyone but ourselves.

Entitled “Doing Good Requires Happier, Healthier Workers,” authors Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman begin with the notion that “[a] nonprofit’s work may be mission-driven, but a happy, healthy staff is mission critical.” Id. Nevertheless, “nonprofit culture celebrates the opposite. Nonprofit leaders, especially those who are involved in social-change movements, are often put on a pedestal for giving up everything, even their health and well-being, for the cause.” Id. As one expert notes, “[w]e are going to kill ourselves trying to change the world. That’s not good for anyone. Our work is hard, slow, messy and stressful. We need to take care of ourselves if we expect to be successful.”  Id.

No doubt, you have heard all of this before. But one difference in the point that this article makes is that we cannot make these changes, and change the prevailing mindset, alone. Just as we rely on our donors, our boards and our communities to help us achieve our mission, so should we rely on them to help us make sure we have the internal and emotional capacity to do so. 

Kanter and Sherman encourage nonprofit leadership to ask the board to take an active role in ensuring that employees are taking care of themselves. They encourage nonprofit leaders to “make a focus on employee well-being part of the strategic planning process….” Id. This is the right thing to do not only from a health and wellness standpoint, but from a financial standpoint as well, as it promotes longevity within an organization and prevents burnout and turnover. Indeed, the authors state that “[b]oards should reward leaders (and staff) with paid sabbaticals before they burn out, not as crisis triage after burnout occurs.”  Id.

But how can nonprofit staff find that balance between keeping the organization afloat and not drowning while doing so?  In a related article on her blogpost, Kanter notes that one of the first steps we must take is to “move from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset.” Beth’s Blog, 11/17/15.  She defines a scarcity mindset as “the belief that everything is limited.”  Id.  Moreover, she notes that “[m]any nonprofit senior leaders believe that self-care is not work and that when employees practice it – like leaving the office after only 8 hours – the organization pays the price of not achieving results.”  Id.  In fact, we know the opposite to be true.  So Kanter encourages nonprofits to instead shift to an “abundance mindset, especially around self-care…. It isn’t something we do as a luxury—it is part of being able to sustain and do the hard work we do in our nonprofits.” Id

Throughout both of the articles there are helpful suggestions as to how to shift to an abundance mindset and how to embed self-care practices into your organization’s everyday culture. And there are some terrific resources out there to help you make this transition. As a starting proposition, I would encourage you to check out training on resiliency from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). This training also includes supporting materials that you can personalize to your center and your community. 

 I urge you to take the time to access all of these materials and to share and discuss them with your staff, your board and your agency partners. We must work together to create environments in which self-care is the norm, and resiliency the result. 

As always, I thank you for all your hard work and dedication and for all that you do on behalf of children and families. And let me be the first to wish you happy holidays!

Warm regards,  
Teresa

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