This is not your typical rodeo. No one has been here before.

We’re all seeing how the nonprofit sector is being leaned on to fill the gaps during this pandemic. To serve working parents, support essential workers, find ways to serve their clients when no contact is allowed. It’s impressive and it’s scary.

And it’s unrealistic to think we can count on these leaders to maintain this level of service and energy for an extended period of time without a break.

I talk to 20 – 30 CEOs and Executive Directors a week. A couple weeks ago, once the immediate response to this health crisis has passed, I started asking about their well-being. Asking how they were taking breaks, clearing their heads, recharging. At that time, not one of them was paying any attention to an intentional break.

They were too busy taking care of their employee, clients and volunteers. These are relationship people; their whole business is geared around people and now they’re being asked to isolate whenever possible. WOW.

Sure, they might take a quick walk outside or try a few yoga poses. But not a true break when they could comfortably stop thinking about the crisis and all it means.

Remember – they have their own personal issues to manage too. Are they trying to homeschool kids and work full time? Are they caring for older family members? Are they worried about their family who are on the front lines? Have they taken a pay cut and are concerned about how to pay bills?

This pandemic has turned the issue of being available 24/7 into a problem on steroids. It’s next level, and your nonprofit executives are starting to crash and burn.

We all know we’re best when we’ve had a chance to recharge. It doesn’t serve anyone well to try to endlessly push through when we aren’t at our best.

And……these folks are servant leaders. They put others first.

Now YOU have a chance to support THEM.

They need days off. And they may be thinking they can’t afford to take that time away. That’s to be expected, so rather than debate that point, help them see the way forward.

Let’s help them change their mindset because mental health is being tested in ways we could have never predicted.

Try these 3 things:

1. Delegate. In normal times executives have an easier time empowering others. During a crisis it feels more like the buck stops with them and they must shoulder the burden. Especially if they’ve had to furlough staff.

However, there is always someone who can be on call to manage the daily issues that arise. How might you help establish a rotating schedule?
Help the ED identify who those people could be.
Help the ED outline parameters for handling those issues so everyone is comfortable.
Identify what circumstances rise to a level – and they better be critical and few – when this appointee may contact the ED on their days off.

Keep in mind, it’s possible this person may have to be a board member. In this case, don’t worry about the line between operations and governance. Give everyone permission to be innovative and adaptive during this crisis.

I’m picturing the ED being able to take a 4-day weekend without interruption. What a gift!

2. Establish boundaries. Keep in mind that most executives are wired to be accessible to their employees and volunteers 7 days a week now. UGH.

In most cases that isn’t really necessary at this stage but when everyone is working remotely, relationships are tough to maintain, communication takes longer and distractions are everywhere.

It’s tough to be efficient and again, there’s that overwhelming sense of responsibility.

So have the conversation:
Can they announce office hours (that don’t include weekends)?
Can they take a 2-hour break in the middle of the day?
Can they say “no” to some things (like certain meetings)?
Can they turn off their phone at night?
Can they put some initiatives on hold without feeling like they are letting others down?

How can you give them permission to let go and take care of themselves? Remind them we need them to set the example for others too.

3. Remind them how to have fun! This may sound odd but guess what… I’ve had several executives tell me they don’t know what they would do if they did have time off because they can’t go anywhere. I get it. On the surface that may seem true but you don’t have to go on a fancy vacation to take a break and unwind.

This is an opportunity to have them brainstorm about what makes them happy.

Do they love to cook? Dance? Hike? Catch up with friends? Lots of things aren’t possible now so help them see what is.

One of my friends recently took a drive out in the countryside with no agenda or destination in mind. He was so upbeat when he got back! He had stopped several times to take pictures of cool scenery he appreciated; he had the windows down and music blaring.

What a great time this is to appreciate the simple things.

Additionally, is your executive getting enough sleep? Doesn’t a nap sound delicious?!

There’s also nothing wrong with encouraging them to chat with a counselor if they are struggling. This extended time of isolation and stress can put any of us in a funk and your support could mean the world.

Bottom line: leading through a pandemic is rough. Your executive is doing amazing work and the community needs you to help see them through it successfully. Your partnership could be the thing that brings them back from the edge.

On behalf of all nonprofit executives, thank you in advance for your support.