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3 Steps for Ultimate Self-Care for Nonprofits

By Holly Rustick


Hi, Changemaker!

Before we get started, I want to thank you for being part of this tribe and part of the positive energy moving the world forward. That is YOU. Because you might be a volunteer for a food bank, an intern at an animal shelter, a college student studying nonprofits, an executive director starting a nonprofit, a director on a board that is wanting to create more revenue for your nonprofit, a grant writer at a nonprofit looking to increase your tools and skills, or possibly someone looking to start a side hustle or earn six figures working from home while writing grants for nonprofits. 

You are amazing. You are committed. Your work will pay off!

This is the investment time. The time you set aside every week while you are commuting to work, working out in the gym, or sitting at your computer. You are investing in yourself and in your community. That is a major win. So, I want you to simply reach back and pat yourself on the back right now. You deserve a little self-compassion and a little love toward yourself. 

In November we are going to be talking about fundraising! Yep, that is the game for that month. But while we transition from freelance grant writing to fundraising, I’d like to roll out a solo post on self-care today.

That pat on the back is needed before the season of giving is upon us. Before the first push in the federal fiscal year of grant funding starts, we need to get our wits together and take a minute to breathe. 

In a couple of days when Halloween is here, we know that Thanksgiving is just around the corner and then Christmas and New Year. For many businesses, this can be when things slow down, but for nonprofits, this can be when you have your big fundraisers, strategic grant meetings, and push to bring in donors. 

As a freelance grant writer, this may be when you start to aggressively line up clients because you know the nonprofits are going to be busy and you want to get some tucked away before the new year. Plus, you’ve got that end of year goal to meet, right?

Self-care for Nonprofits

Self-care is vital for you being able to help others. I remember when I was first starting out, in a mound of debt and frazzled at all ends, Leone Williams said to me that first you need to take care of yourself, then your family, then your community. This has served me and others well.  

You’ve heard the saying to put your oxygen mask on first, but why don’t we do it in our daily lives? We might be too scared of what other people may think of us so we volunteer to do 1000 more things than we can handle. We feel guilty.

But let’s get real here for a second. How many people do you know in the nonprofit world who have had heart attacks or strokes? Because I definitely know some. The nonprofit world can easily become a 24/7 emergency fire zone. 

Nonprofits are usually created to fill a gap and that gap is constantly screaming for your attention. Plus you have to figure out how to pay the bills, employee complaints, etc. Your adrenal glands can literally be stressed constantly. This is not good. And let’s be real, everything is NOT an emergency. 

Others may think so and it may feel like it, but it really isn’t. How you can start figuring out what is an emergency and what isn’t is through self-care. Yeah, sounds strange, but it’s true. 

If you take care of yourself, you are going to have a better perspective on what is and what isn’t an emergency.

Self-care is vital! But how do we do it? 

Here are some ways that I manage self-care. I’d love to hear your ways, too! So if you have some great ideas, please send me an email at holly@grantwritingandfunding.com!


Plan your week in advance

You thought I was going to say take a day off or a mini-vacation, didn’t you? We’ll get to that later...

Self-care isn’t just doing nothing, but it is being intentional with your time. If you live in a big rush of overwhelm every week having huge projects that never end, then it is time to start creating your time. 

Believe me, if you do not sit down once a week and plan out all of your strategic blocks of time to get those projects done, they won’t get done. They will be on your to-do list for waaaay longer than you want. And by being on your to-do list for so long (with little to no forward movement), then they become big looming monsters that grow in size. Just the thought of them starts to stress you out and overwhelm you. 

Instead, give that goal an end date and then work backward week-by-week writing down one step toward that goal you can accomplish and schedule it in your planner. If you goal has a hard deadline then it makes it easier as you know exactly where to work backward from!

Don’t overthink this step. Just sit down for an hour once a week and schedule out your entire week. Even your schedule for the gym, picking up the kids, buffer time in checking your email and even downtime.  

I actually do my planning on Sunday mornings. I find that after a full night of sleep, with a cup of coffee, and a relaxing day ahead of me that my planning is a highlight of my week. I love to see the progress I have made and how I will tackle all my upcoming projects. 

That way each day of the week when I start working I can just refer back to my schedule. This saves me so much time throughout the week with being stuck or overwhelmed and not knowing what projects to work on. Plus, all those emergencies pulling at my time can then be scheduled in a buffer block when I can deal with them.


Say no more than yes

You have your week scheduled so you know what your bandwidth is. But I also know that life happens and sometimes you stray off your best-intentioned schedule. There’s a party you didn’t know about, your kid gets sick, you have a migraine one day, there’s a storm, etc. 

That’s why it is important to factor in buffer time and move forward in at least one step on each project per week rather than waiting for the last week to do it all! (Yes, guilty at doing that at times). But as Robin Arzon says, “No is a complete sentence.”

She’s right. It is easier to say no when you are in the habit of planning your time! The thing is if it isn’t a complete, “Heck, yeah!” it should be a no. 

That is a good indicator. If you aren’t truly excited about it, then you are going to dread doing it and nobody wants that energy.

But even before the “heck, yeah” comes out of your mouth, what you should say is, “let me check my planner and get back to you.” Because you need to see what your bandwidth allows. I even schedule my volunteer work in my planner because it is a part of my load. 

Now when people ask me to volunteer for additional items, I know that my volunteer time is already filled up. I don’t even tell them I will check my calendar, my answer is, “my plate is already full.” 

“But, Holly, I don’t want to seem rude and I have a hard time saying the word ‘no’”. 

Okay, here is one of the best ways I ever heard how to say, “no.” You can use the, “my plate is already full,” but you can even be more honest than that and say, “I am focusing on certain priorities right now that I have already identified, and if I take on X then I won’t fulfill my promises and commitment to those priorities.”


This is true. It is what you have in your planner. Plus, it shows that you have integrity and commitment, because now you do. Before when you were saying yes to things that you didn’t want to or have time for, then did you really have the integrity to yourself?

People respect you when you say no in the right way. They really do. Plus you will be living in integrity to yourself. This is ultimate self-care.


Listen to your body

Sometimes you do need that day off! 

I know that I like to hustle hard. I love to fill my schedule and accomplish big audacious goals. But sometimes, I need a day off when it isn’t planned. 

My body’s way of telling me to slow down and take an unintentional day off is giving me a migraine. Yes, I believe that our bodies are smarter than our minds with survival. And my body is like, here is a migraine to make you go lie down and take a nap. 

Of course, I can’t always do that, but most often I don’t have a choice. I know it’s going to be a day that I will get a massage and an early night to sleep and that if I push through my work won’t be that productive anyway. But the next morning, after a massage and an early to bed night I am 110% slaying my projects.

Once again, if you give yourself a buffer of time in your schedule, your body’s way of shutting you down won’t throw you off too much, if at all.


If you don’t plan your work, learn how to say no, or listen to your body, then you risk never getting your projects done, not having the integrity to yourself, and being unproductive when your body tells you to slow down. These things can lead to not being satisfied and living your legacy and could even lead to stroke, high blood pressure, or having a heart attack.

Respect others when you see them working on self-care, as well. Remember what your priority and emergency is usually isn’t anyone else’s. So give others the space to be interested in what you do and only to be involved if they have a ‘heck, yeah!’ with time on their planner.


I’ll be back next week with my guest Beaudy Camacho who will be talking all about fundraising strategies. 

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