September 11, 2009

Karen’s 30 Leadership Activities for Growth

Hand writing on a calendarOne way to prevent burnout is to keep feeding your brain with new ideas and possibilities. Here is a month’s worth of practical, low-cost, or no-cost learning activities to keep your perspective fresh. They also keep you from feeling stale by supporting your growth and helping you learn something about the nonprofit field.

You’ll find some are already on your list. Others are innovative and will only take a slight tweak on what you’re doing to put into practice.


  1.  Check out one new website. Try a competitor’s site or a group that inspires you.
  2.  Visit a nonprofit service provider website, like the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Candid, or the Chronicle of Philanthropy, to learn about the resources offered.
  3. Read an article, newsletter, or blog. For example, here’s Karen’s blog.
  4.  Read a chapter in a book. Here’s a link to both of my books and how to access free chapters.
  5. Watch an educational DVD or visit TED for a short video.
  6. Create a top ten reading list related to your mission for your board, staff, and community. Include the articles and books you have found most helpful, adding a one-sentence description to each, explaining why the item is of interest.
  7. During your commute, listen to a podcast, like Stanford Innovation Reviews or Social Good.
  8. Learn a new macro or word processing technique in a software program you frequently use.
  9. Learn a new application for your cell phone or other electronic devices you use daily.
  10. Read the Wall Street Journaland your local paper-most of your large donors do. Alternatively, get the app so you can regularly review the headline
  11. Ask a question or respond to a blog or helpline, such as Reddit.

With Others

  1.  Make one information gathering telephone call. What’s something you’re curious about? Call and ask.
  2.  Attend a conference, meeting, or presentation. Can’t get away? Review your notes from an earlier session.
  3.  Visit a customer at their physical site or home or place of work.
  4.  Visit a competitor’s physical site. If they are distinct, check out their signage and parking lot on Google Maps.
  5.  Find three friends to meet for a mastermind session. Each participant shares a challenge during your one-hour session, and the others help by brainstorming solutions for fifteen minutes.
  6. Interview a former staff or board member to stay in touch and learn any departure insights. What makes you stand out? What have they learned since leaving?
  7. Skim a magazine from a different field to look for applications to adapt to your setting. Libraries often collect older magazines and share them at no cost or low cost.

By Yourself

  1.  If you now use a to-do list, experiment with making several for different areas of your life and prioritizing each list with A, B, or C priorities. Or, experiment with David Allen’s technique of listing items according to where they need to be done, i.e., computer, errands, and at home.
  2. Write down a goal for something you have never created a goal. Determine if writing it down helps you to identify the next action steps to achieving it.
  3. Dust off your strategic plan or New Year’s resolutions. Identify one action step and learn something about what it will take to achieve it.
  4. Make a bullet list of the key points from an article you found helpful. Share these takeaways with your staff and board. Consider using this as your article in your monthly newsletter.
  5. Invite someone to lunch whom you’ve enjoyed meeting but with whom you never broke bread.
  6. Journal three successes each day. Over time analyze their contents and patterns so you can build on them.
  7. Ask a question at a meeting where you are usually part of the silent majority. Or, if you are a frequent contributor, silently observe others.
  8. Drive to work a different way.
  9. Conduct mini-experiments. For example, record the amount of time you spend on your email for one week. Discern if this helps you to make different decisions about your use of this tool.
  10. Log your time for one week. Where do you invest it? Are you really doing as much fundraising as you thought?
  11. Go on a bookstore prowl. Check out recent business and nonprofit magazines and books for titles and trends.
  12. Create your own list of leadership growth opportunities.
More Burnout Prevention Resources 
Preventing burnout comes with the nonprofit leaders’ job description. In almost all cases, the way to prevent burnout is not to work harder. Instead, it is to step away from the flame and figure out how to improve your approach to challenges.
Here’s are three invitations to step back and refresh.
  • Does your stress comes from, well—everything.
Watch The 7 Levers of Nonprofit leadership. Could you share it with your staff? Explore which levers you can use more.
  • Do your board meetings stress you and your staff out?
  • Or maybe it’s time to get real about what it means to serve others in the nonprofit sector.
Do you have specific stressors you’d like to tackle? Don’t hesitate to reach out.
All the best, Karen
Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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