Successful Stress Management Techniques for Development Officers

Raising money is a rewarding and fulfilling profession if you ask many of the successful men and women who ask for funds on a daily basis. Nonprofits, whether they are in business to help one individual, one child, one animal, or to transform society, give development officers reasons to be proud and feel purposeful in their chosen careers.

Nevertheless, most of them will admit that it is a high-stress occupation. The ever-present dollar goal, activity metrics, reliance on the benevolence of mankind, coupled with unscheduled interruptions can create a personal microclimate of pressure and anxiety.

One woman told me that she had not slept through the night since assuming her role as the chief development officer of a school. A university major gift officer spoke about several unhealthy habits he had developed while in a campaign.

Stress is an all too common part of our modern lives. Just searching on the internet for the word “stress” brought about 2,260,000,000 results in 0.33 seconds.

Some of the more successful development officers manage their stress levels better than others, and so we asked several of them to share their strategies. Here’s what we’ve learned:

Stay focused on what matters.

Ask yourself every morning: What will I be evaluated on? What will success look like six months from now? What are my primary activities? What do I do that makes a difference? Structure your day, your week, your month around the answers to these questions. Crowd out the “busy” work of meaningless activities that won’t matter in the big picture. One individual reported making every activity purposeful and directed toward the metrics that were reviewed weekly.

Exercise more.

We all know that exercise classes, yoga, and morning runs can improve health and reduce stress. Many of our clients are fit and active, with exercise time a priority in their schedules. But some of them reported that there is no additional time to devote to a real workout. Or, if they carve out the time, they are just too tired to put forth the effort at the beginning, middle or end of the day. To counteract the sedentary habits developed in the office or on the road, several of them mentioned taking phone calls on cordless or cell phones and walking for the length of the call. One commented, “As soon as I hear my phone ring, I stand up and start moving.”

If you can’t always walk, trying standing. Someone in our office was just fitted for a desk that can be raised to a standing position. She now completes her computer work (answering emails, typing proposals, etc.) while standing. It certainly helps with improved posture, and allows one to breathe more deeply—both counteracting the negative impact of stress.

If you can get a prospect to have a walking meeting with you, that may be another way to fit in a mild workout. One major gift officer said that she has a number of people who will meet with her “on the go,” instead of in a coffee shop.

Schedule your time.

Remember that stress is actually a normal response to stimuli and is therefore not all bad. Only when it occurs in massive doses, or is continuous without break does it becomes a health hazard and a disruption to productivity. The former may be difficult to control—big bad things do happen.

However, the latter, continuous stress without a break, is something over which each of us should take ownership. Since frequently our work occurs over what would normally be a break in the work day—lunches, coffees, dinners—it is important to recapture some of that down time. Several development officers reported taking a twenty minute break to relax, read journal articles, or just to breathe deeply.

Incorporating these simple techniques recommended by high performing development professionals into our every-day work routines will improve productivity, and work satisfaction.