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PEAK Grantmaking

Living BIG by Stepping Back: Wellness Lessons Inspired by PEAK’s Leadership Summit

This illustration shows various people hugging and smiling.
PEAK absolutely has the best volunteers. 
Recently, we hosted our annual leadership summit for our numerous volunteer leaders. We spent four days with our chapter, committee, and peer group volunteer leaders, connecting with each other, learning about what’s going on in our respective groups, and spending some time reflecting and participating in some professional development. Beyond the focus on professional growth, we encouraged attendees to focus on holistic wellness. We started each day of programming with a moment of calm, an opportunity for us to step back, recenter, and clear our hearts and minds.  

As I prepared to lead the moment of calm for one of the sessions, I considered what a moment of calm would look like for the sector. Just like a preacher preparing a sermon for the congregation, I reflected on what message we all could use to recenter ourselves. In my guided meditation, I talked about checking in with our bodies, turning off device notifications, clearing our minds from writing the next email or the impeding grant review deadline, and just centering ourselves. That reflection made me realize that we as a collective need more of this. We need time and space to sit, rest, and reflect. The other guided meditations similarly focused on stepping back to pay attention to ourselves and to be more present. As we process the pain of the past two years, while working harder to support those most impacted, we have to ensure that we’re taking care of ourselves. 

As practitioners full of ideas and passion for making a positive impact on the social sector, it is easy to give so much that you forget to step back to do a self-check.

As practitioners full of ideas and passion for making a positive impact on the social sector, it is easy to give so much that you forget to step back to do a self-check. We talk a lot about reducing grantee burden, but often that means the burden falls on us as funders. But what are the wellness implications when you’re already holding so many roles, responsibilities, and tasks, especially for smaller funding organizations? I’m reminded of the adage to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help others. Reflecting on what we discussed at the Leadership Summit, here are seven ways that you as a funder—whether you are a professional-level employee or a senior leader—can think about implementing self-care practices to uplift your professional and personal self. 

Establish and communicate boundaries. Guest facilitator, Marissa Lifshen Steinberger of One Eleven Leadership lifted up the importance of self-care, and also discussed the importance of boundaries. She defined boundaries as a concrete manifestation of an intention, emphasizing that issues often arise when you don’t consciously set intention, or when there is misalignment between intention and action. Establishing and communicating boundaries is key—whether that is being able to step away from the screen at a certain time, saying no to the new project, pushing back on an expectation that doesn’t align with your goals. Ensure that your boundaries are communicated clearly and specifically so that others can understand and respect them.  

Set your goals and action plans. It is important to set clear goals for your professional and personal growth—and set action plans to achieve them. Every good opportunity that comes across your desk may not be advantageous, and having a clear trajectory for your goals helps you to assess if a good opportunity will get you to your goals or be a distraction, helping you to more clearly and easily say, “no.”  

Factor in time for self-care. Working remotely has allowed professionals to have increased flexibility, but that also comes with fewer boundaries for working, and more professionals are working irregular hours. Taking time away from the screens and dedicating it to self-care is imperative. Just as we schedule meetings, we should make sure we’re scheduling time to attend to our full well-being, whether that’s scheduled stretch breaks, time for walks, opportunities to connect with loved ones, or spending time on an enjoyable hobby. Find time to unplug from work so that you can show up as your best self.  

Consider operational flexibility. Guest facilitator Aiko Bethea, a past PEAK board member and founder of RARE Coaching, spoke about living BIG—setting boundaries, living with integrity, and leading with generosity. For those in leadership positions, this means putting your people first. Many funders have explored ways to work differently as a result of the pandemic, to the benefit of workers. These practices include no-meeting Fridays, four-day workweeks, flexible work hours, and remote work options that will remain available after the pandemic subsides. These benefits have allowed staff to create work-life balance, take care of themselves, and show up as their best selves for work. Many traditional ways of working are being challenged, as the work is still getting done in alternative workplace settings. Consider ways to reduce your staff’s burden through embedding operational flexibility benefits. 

Assess staff capacity. If you’re in a leadership position, the end of year is a great time to consider where there are gaps in your organization and consider how you’ll address them in the upcoming cycle. If you’re not, you can still think of ways to advocate for yourself and for improved capacity. Reducing grantee burden and uplifting equitable grantmaking practices often takes more time and capacity on funders, so ensure your team has the resources it needs to be successful and well-supported. 

Assess where you may need support. On a professional and personal level, knowing when to ask for assistance is key, whether that’s in the form of adding people to a project, being mentored from a senior leader, participating in professional development or trainings opportunities, or just having the opportunity to connect with a peer for emotional support. 

Consider healing spaces. Many funders are offering grantee healing circles as a coveted space to address institutional trauma- such as structural racism, poverty, white supremacy, health and health-care disparities, and marginalization. This resource can also be offered to funder staff to process and heal from trauma. Providing spaces such as employee resource groups and affinity groups allow those from marginalized identities to collectively gather, acknowledge trauma, support one another, and help the healing process. Providing spaces to grantmaking staff to acknowledge stress and trauma, and to heal from it, is a great way to take care of funding staff.  

Let’s make sure we take care of ourselves and one another so that we can show up as our best selves to best impact the sector.