Radical Self-Care for Fundraisers & Nonprofits (and tech that can help)


by Leya Simmons, CEO and co-founder of BetterUnite


Long before I began BetterUnite, I implemented a self-care practice that is, for me, comprised of therapy, yoga, meditation, long walks and hikes and meetings with my sponsor and other women in the spiritual tradition that I follow (which starts with A and ends with Anonymous). In my previous career as a nonprofit executive with small and mid-sized nonprofits, I leaned heavily on this practice. 


Today, this practice is so essential to my daily life and to my ability to show up well for all of you, all of the potential BetterUniters, my colleagues and peers, not to mention my family, kids, dog and friends, that I have borrowed a term from one of my teachers in describing it: Radical Self-Care. 


Unfortunately, the nonprofit industry's turnover rate (read: burnout) is far higher than the corporate average: 19% within the NPO sector versus 12% in all industries. Why? Working on behalf of critical and life-saving missions in under-resourced organizations dramatically increases the pressure for success. Not to mention having multiple bosses (board members in addition to C-level staff), excessive numbers of interns and volunteers to manage, and high-intensity fundraising events and deadlines to attend to. This all combines to create a pressure-cooker situation for even the most seasoned executive. People who take care of others (i.e. anyone who works at or with a nonprofit) MUST take care of themselves.


Radical Self-Care is the answer.


In some ways, I am lucky - being in long-term recovery from alcohol means that self-care is not an option for me. While that makes it "easier" to prioritize, it's still an everyday decision and sometimes that decision is one I resist for a variety of mundane reasons. The dog needs to go to the vet, I have too much work to do, I'm under pressure from my colleagues around a deadline, etc. I meet resistance not only from myself but from those who want my attention or effort. So sometimes, the act of self-care is radical because I am flying in the face of some pretty conventional attitudes and habits when I choose to make myself my priority. (Have I mentioned I have five kids ages 22-6? So, there's that too...)


What do I do? Let me tell you something so true and important I could not emphasize enough: I do what's right for me. And you know what? I am a limited edition. There's just one. So what is right for me is almost certainly not right for you. 


But, as a trauma-informed yoga teacher who has been engaged in all of the above Radical Self-Care activities for 20 years, I do have some wisdom, strength and hope that I am proud and happy to share.


Check-in with Yourself

Are you feeling low-key anxious? Have you had a few days (or just one) of feeling sad or low or lonely for no discernible reason? It might be that you should do a self-check-in. 

One of my favorite therapists calls it MEDS: Mindfulness, Exercise, Diet, Spirituality. Maybe you've over-extended yourself and need a day of quiet. Maybe your endorphins need a boost with some exercise. Maybe you've eaten crap food for a week and could use vitamins from the earth in the form of nutritious food. 

But here's the rub: look at these areas, honestly assess them, and try not to judge yourself. I know, not easy. But try. It's the trying that's the thing.


Just Start.

I don't care if you just walk outside and take three deep breaths. Or you download a meditation app (I'm linking my favorite below). Or you subscribe to and only watch a yoga teacher's YouTube channel (those are linked too). Whatever you do is a step toward intentional self-care and it's important -because you are important. My sponsor reminds me often that there is never a wrong reason to do the right thing, so even if you're starting because you want to lose weight or look cool to your girlfriend when you're sitting on your Amazon-ordered meditation pillow, it doesn't matter. Just. Start.


Do the Easy Thing First

Sometimes you need to plant your feet on the ground beneath your desk, close your eyes, and breathe in and out slowly a few times. When starting with meditation, try arriving at a meeting or appointment 5 minutes early and sit in your car for a 3-5 minute meditation (look at the apps, there are thousands). Or wake up 10 minutes early and do the three yoga poses you remember from that time you took that class with that friend. It's all called practice because there is no performance, no end game, no learning all there is to know—progress not perfection. And if you are in a class or with a therapist or anyone that makes you feel as though you're not doing it "right," - leave them. Quickly.


Routines Make Radical Self-Care Easier

A favorite yoga teacher once told me: I've never regretted a yoga practice that I've done but I've regretted almost all of the practices I skipped. Book your workout/meditation/spiritual session/therapy into your calendar and hit REPEAT. Set an alarm for deep breathing every hour or turn back on the iWatch feature that reminds you. This is another radical part: Be honest with others about what you're doing. It's a next step and you can do it later, but you might be surprised by who will support your effort.


Tech Can Help

There are many apps for everything I've mentioned above and more that I don't know about. So I'm creating a resource section for you below that is by no means comprehensive but is based on my personal use and the benefit I've received. (post in the comments with links to other tools that you use!)


My great wish is that you feel empowered and encouraged to make self-care a part of your life and, if you're an executive at a nonprofit, perhaps an integral part of your work culture. Hopefully these tools help you find what works for you. And I hope you do one thing today that will be just for you.


Be radical, and see what happens.


Therapy Resource

  • BetterHelp
  • 800-662-HELP (4357) SAMSHA's National Helpline
  • 988 SAMHSA's Suicide and Crisis Line



12-Step Meetings


Further Reading (aka: Leya's favorite books)

  • In the Shelter, Pádraig Ó Tuama
  • Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott (or literally anything by Ms. Lamott)
  • The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz
  • Daring Greatly, Brené Brown
  • Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
  • Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • The Dark Night of the Soul, Gerald G. May
  • The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
  • We are the Luckiest, Laura McKowen
  • Moving into Meditation, Anne Cushman
  • The Breathing Book, Donna Farhi

*I've linked the living authors to their Instagram accounts, as I find that following people who post this type of content is the good kind of curated content.