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What’s wrong with working hard for your nonprofit?

Read the previous post in this series on the four flaws of nonprofit thinking, “What’s wrong with being thrifty?” and watch the video about working hard vs. working smart.

There are four major flaws in nonprofit thinking, and the third one is working hard.

When I was working at Hope Gospel Mission, we had a service learning student named Elizabeth. Elizabeth was fantastic, so fantastic that we hired her full-time when she graduated. At the time, the mission had a culture of working 60+ hours per week. One day, Elizabeth came into my office and said, “I want to leave by 4:00 pm every day.”

“Okay,” I said. “And make up the hours in the morning?”


“And pick up the hours on the weekend?”

“No,” she said. “I only want to work 40 hours a week.” Well, I thought this was a pipedream, and Elizabeth could tell I was sceptical. She continued, “If God can’t use my 40 hours, how can He use my 60?”

Faith aside, Elizabeth made a good point: when is enough, enough?

So, I made a deal with Elizabeth. She could leave by four every day if I left the office with her. And you know what? Elizabeth and I got more done working only 40 hours that week than we ever did working 60. Maybe we were more motivated, had more rest, had more energy—you can decide. But, we did more working less.

Often at nonprofits, we are working too hard. We’re working long hours, not getting enough sleep, eating too many donated donuts, and binging on caffeine. We work so much that we don’t have time for family or friends. This is not sustainable emotionally, physically, or spiritually. And if you can’t take care of yourself, how do you expect to take care of others?

Leaders at vibrant nonpofits work smart, like a man who uses a lever to lift a boulder instead of trying to heft it himself. In practical terms, this means caring for yourself as you care for others. Nonprofit leaders eat well, exercise, set boundaries with their work, get enough sleep, and have healthy relationships outside of work. Ultimately, vibrant leaders practice a sustainable lifestyle.

Don’t sacrifice your well-being for your mission.

Next time, I’ll be talking about the fourth and final flaw in nonprofit thinking: Being Busy.

Vibrancy planning can train your leadership and staff to work smart. Give Brent a call to find out how to make your organization more vibrant.

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