I know I criticize our sector a lot (and more is coming!). But there are amazing things going on, and I am really grateful for the organizations and leaders who are doing awesome stuff. Recently in my state, the Washington Women’s Foundation released a grant to provide $100,000 each to 10 Black women working in nonprofit in Washington State, with the expressed purpose of funding their rest and renewal. This is mind-blowing! The approach is thoughtful, recognizing the burdens Black women have carried in our sector and trusting Black women to know what’s best for themselves.

I have worked with some of these leaders. I see, at least partly, how much they’ve contributed and sacrificed over the years to make our community better. To hear that they are getting an opportunity to rest, to spend time with their family, to try out or get back into creative hobbies, to just breathe and exist…it’s heartening.

Our sector is complicated. On one hand, this work is fulfilling and meaningful and it is a privilege to be able to do it. On the other hand, it can be soul-crushingly stressful. It consumes us, demanding more and more, constantly taking. It takes our sleep. It takes our health. It ruins our natural good looks, leaving us many of us with sunken eyes and a general haunted visage accompanied by a pervasive scent of ink toner and despair. And this was before the pandemic; the past three years have been even worse.

Which is why it’s so important that there are funders who are paying attention, who understand that taking care of individual leaders is vital to our sector. There are tons of research now proving how beneficial sabbaticals are. Here’s a report from TSNE that shows that sabbaticals increase leadership skills among both leaders taking them as well as those who step up during their colleagues’ absence; governance is improved; leaders come back with fresh ideas and energy for their work; and funders benefit from the knowledge and connections gained.

But I want us to get away from the “it benefits the organization and the sector” arguments for a second. People have intrinsic worth outside of their usefulness to the field, and yet the sector often treats them like batteries to be burned out and discarded. If we have any hope of creating the kind, caring, equitable community we want to see, we need to model it by valuing the individuals (of ALL leadership levels, not just EDs/CEOs) doing this work and providing them with the support to be their full selves, regardless of what they’re contributing to the sector. Especially leaders from marginalized communities.

Read the full article about supporting nonprofit leadership health by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF.