September 11, 2021

Empower Your Leadership: 30 Activities for Nonprofit CEO Growth

The need to prevent burnout among staff and personally comes with the nonprofit execs’ job description. Almost always, preventing burnout works best when you step away from the flames and gain perspective that allows you to approach your challenges in new ways.

One way to prevent burnout is to feed your brain new ideas and possibilities. (This is true, especially when you don’t have time to do it!)

Here is a month’s worth of practical, low-cost, or no-cost, mostly innovative 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. Bonus: Most of them can be completed in less than 15 minutes.

You’ll find some are already on your list. Others are innovative and will take slight tweaks 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 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 found most helpful, adding a one-sentence description to each, explaining why the item is interesting. Add one item per week.
  7. Listen to a podcast like Stanford Innovation Reviews or Social Good during your commute.
  8. Learn a new macro or word processing technique in a frequently used software program.
  9. Add an app to your cell phone or other electronic devices.
  10. Skim the Wall Street Journal and your local paper. Why? Your large donors do.
  11. Ask a question or respond to a blog or helpline like 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 a recent session.
  3.  Visit a customer or client at their physical site at home or their workplace.
  4.  Visit a competitor’s physical site.  Look at their signage and parking lot on Google Maps if they are distant.
  5.  Gather three execs for a mastermind session. During your session, ask each person to share a challenge and the other two during brainstorming solutions. Rotate every fifteen minutes.
  6. Call a former staff or board member to stay in touch and learn their post-service insights. What makes you stand out? What have they learned since leaving?
  7. Skim a magazine from a different field to apply or to adapt to your setting. Libraries often collect recent publications and share or sell them at low cost.

By Yourself

  1.  If you use a to-do list, experiment with prioritizing your 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. Listen to Andrew Huberman’s A Science-Supported Journaling Protocol to Improve Mental & Physical Health and use the protocol to clarify one of your life’s most challenging times. Perhaps a board trauma? (Note this one will take longer and cause discomfort, but the outcome is worth it.)
  3. Dust off your strategic plan or New Year’s resolutions. Identify one action step and discover what you need to do next to achieve it.
  4. Make a bullet list of the key points from a helpful article. Share the takeaways with your staff and board. Consider using your list as the content in a newsletter article or blog post.
  5. Invite someone to lunch whom you’ve enjoyed meeting but with whom you never broke bread.
  6. Journal three successes each day. Once a month, review them and analyze any patterns you discover.
  7. Ask a question at a meeting where you are usually silent. Or, if you are a frequent contributor, silently observe others.
  8. Drive to work a different way. Work from home? Change the order of your morning ritual.
  9. Conduct mini-experiments. For example, record the amount of time you spend on your email for one week. How does noticing change how you use the tool?
  10. Log your time for one week. Where do you invest it? For example, are you doing as much fundraising as you thought?
  11. Prowl a bookstore. Check out recent business and nonprofit magazines and books for titles and trends.
  12. Create your list of leadership growth opportunities.

What’s Next

  • Work with me. I partner with nonprofit execs to craft tailored solutions to their board, staff, and revenue short-fall challenges –solutions designed to leave the current challenges in the dust. Take a moment to schedule your free session.
  • Need a board boost? Discover your prescription to nurture your board to health with BoardRx.
  • Get a trusted advisor to solve the staff or board challenges stuck in your backpack.
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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