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Getting Through Year-End Season Intact

October 25th, 2010

Let’s assume for the moment that you make your year-end goal(s), either donor-wise or dollar-wise. Once that’s done, what will it have cost YOU? How do you fare personally after the year-end campaign has ended? Are your sanity and health intact? Do you get to enjoy the holidays at all, or are they all a sleep-deprived blur?

Cassandra* came to me with a career counseling request that was different than most. She wasn’t looking to interview and leave her current job for a “better” one. She wanted a better way to deal with the frenzy of working in the non profit world.

“I enjoy the non profit environment,” she told me, “But particularly at year-end giving time, it’s not simply that I have no time for my family or the holidays, but I often end up so run down that I’m actually physically ill and end up using some of my vacation days after I use up my sick days. There has to be a better way!”

Early this year, we took a look at how last year’s year-end schedule went. Better planning and scheduling ahead was certainly a necessary step, so Cassandra took several measures to have her various campaign deliverables on the calendar ahead of time, when compared to last year, with all deadlines moved several weeks prior to what they had been.

This was only one piece of the solution, however. When reviewing her overall work habits, we discovered that a significant part of the problem was that Cassandra made a point to work so many hours throughout the year already, that her director came to expect that as the norm.

Of course, everyone was expected to ramp up and work “extra” during year’s end. For Cassandra, “extra” then became extraordinary to the point that she could scarcely function and nearly always became sick afterward. She had set a dangerous precedent that would probably take most of the year to undo.

It was a challenge at first during the year for Cassandra not to work the long hours she had grown accustomed to, but it also taught her better delegation. In addition, she and the rest of the staff have come to appreciate having more of the campaigns and events planned ahead, and so she anticipates that they will all be even more grateful as the busiest season approaches.

“I’ve noticed something else, too,” Cassandra said. “It’s not just at year’s end that I’ve been out sick, but occasionally during other peak times, such as our main Spring Event – and I didn’t this time.  Although people haven’t directly said so, I often got the feeling that they felt I was taking extra vacation under the guise of being sick or something. I didn’t have to wonder about that this time – and neither did anyone else – since I simply returned to work after the event.”

“I do like my job,” Cassandra continued, “But I’m looking forward to these changes helping me to get my personal life back, too. Being exhausted all of the time is no fun.”

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown

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