Turning Empathy Inward at Nonprofit Organizations | Beth's Blog

Turning Empathy Inward at Nonprofit Organizations

Organizational Culture

In my book with Aliza Sherman, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact Without Burnout, we offer a framework for practicing self-care and creating a culture of well-being in the nonprofit workplace. The book looks at our relationships with ourselves, other people, careers and money, our environment, and technology—and shows how our relationships with people in our workplaces heavily influence our well-being.

Since the launch of our book, I’ve been teaching workshops for nonprofits on how to practice self-care and bring a culture of wellbeing into organizations. And I keep hearing the same questions and concerns: Inevitably, a nonprofit leader will come up and confide that everyone in the organization is on the cusp of burnout. Everyone works ridiculously long hours, feels under attack from breaking news, has too much work to do, and has too few resources.

Sometimes they mention feeling lonely or experiencing a loss of purpose for the mission that initially energized them. They are passionate about the organization’s work, but they find it hard to continue while feeling devalued. These young leaders desperately want to change their organization’s culture and not have to leave.

Most modern workplaces have become so impersonal and demanding that we’ve gotten desensitized to caring about coworkers. Many people who work for nonprofits suffer from passion fatigue and compassion burnout because they already have to give so much to those they serve that they have nothing left for fellow staff. Awakening Compassion at Work, by Monica Worline and Jane Dutton, is a compelling guide to rehumanizing workplaces with love. The book offers a road map for how to instill organizational culture with a deep sense of compassion—something that would make many organizations happier and healthier places to work.

If you think compassion in the workplace only serves to appease hippies or to soften harsh corporate cultures driven by a profit motive, this book may make you think again. Nonprofit workers are experts at being compassionate to the people they serve. But they also need to practice compassion in their own offices. The authors make a good case for why there is no greater power or source of strength in the world than love. Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries—and nonprofits need to promote them not only among the communities they serve but also as part of their internal culture.

You can read more of my review of this book published in the Summer 2017 Stanford Social Innovation Review

2 Responses

  1. Monica Clare says:

    Thank you for this article. This is a topic that has been on our minds recently as we have experienced compassion fatigue among our volunteers. We have 350 weekly committed volunteers and we constantly try to uplift them, but sometimes it is tiring when they see many of the same people and some of those people don’t treat them well. Encouraging positive behavior for the volunteers can be difficult if they feel defensive. I will definitely check out this book.

  2. Beth says:

    Monica, your organization is doing such important work – and it is great to see that you are looking how to create a compassionate environment for volunteers.

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