28 Self-Care Tips for the Nonprofit Professional


If I were to stop a nonprofit worker on the street and ask to see their to-do list, chances are self-care would be right under “Ask Oprah for money.”

Self-care is like that good idea that someone told you to do once that you just wrote down to get them to leave you alone. It seems like a waste of time and energy.  

When you live on a nonprofit salary, self-care seems like something reserved for people with funds for massages, spa days, and lavish seven-day cruises. In reality, those of us in this field need self-care more than ever. If you aren’t healthy, who is going keep the heartbeat of the community running?


I am all for treating yourself, but until we start getting paid more in the nonprofit sector, here’s 28 Self Care Tips for Living on a Nonprofit Salary:

  1. Write notes to three people about something you appreciate about them. While you’re at it, write yourself a note too!
  2. Take a walk. If you can walk outside and get in some vitamin D, great. However, if you’re battling the depths of winter, an indoor walk’s the next best thing. Don’t force yourself to do too much, just get the blood flowing. If possible, have a walking meeting.

  3. Go to the library. Check out a book, download audio books, TV shows, even movies.

  4. Spend a few minutes and plan the coming week. You’ll feel less stressed about everything you have to do if you get everything organized beforehand. Plus, crossing things off your list throughout the week always feels good.

  5. Call a friend.
  6. Check in with yourself: How are you feeling? Can you feel your feet on the ground? Are your shoulders tight? Take a moment to check in and breathe.

  7. Play games. Board games, charades, whatever you can immerse yourself in for a few minutes, keeping your brain active but relaxed. Invite friends over, converse, squeeze in a quick game of “Heads up” or “Bana-grams” at work.

  8. Listen to music. Create a playlist for yourself packed with inspirational tunes to keep yourself going. Short on time? Look one up on Spotify.
  9. Doodle.

  10. Smile at people!

  11. Brew some hot tea or coffee. Really take the time to tap into all your senses; how does it smell, feel, taste, etc.

  12. Take a social media break, alternatively go online and look at cute pictures of baby animals. New research suggests it helps with concentration.
  13. Take a 5-4-3-2-1. Connect with 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you smell, 2 things you can touch, 1 thing you taste. This is especially helpful if you’re feeling stressed and need to get out of your head for a minute.

  14. Hugs. Get as many hugs as you can. From your family, friends, dogs, cats, and coworkers if you’re close, anyone who is willing. Research suggests that hugs are good for your health.

  15. Make a Gratitude List. Write down three things you are grateful for at the end of the day.

  16. Journal. Diary entries, bullets, freestyle - write whatever you need; no one is judging you.
  17. Declutter. Every day pick a drawer or small area in your space and spend 10 minutes decluttering it. 

  18. Have a genuine conversation. With friends, family, perhaps even invite colleagues in a similar field to meet during lunch. Pick topics that interest you and learn from each other. It’s a great way to network.

  19. Go sightseeing. Whatever’s in your particular neighborhood just get out and explore (people watching is the next best thing).

  20. Try photography. Just for you. No one needs to see it.

  21. Write an uplifting quote or an affirmation on a post-it. Put it somewhere easy to spot when you need inspiration!

  22. Take your sick day. Most nonprofits provide decent benefits. If you have a sick day, take it. During flu season, please don’t go into work and put others at risk of getting sick. Also, don’t work from home! Just sleep or curl up and watch Hulu, Netflix, perhaps read. Now is the time to let your body focus on healing. Trust me, the healthy people at work will thank you for not coming in sick.  
  23. Take 10 deep breaths.

  24. Check the stories you tell yourself. Our brains are hardwired for storytelling, but we need to be mindful that not every story needs a villain, a victim and a hero. Oftentimes at work it’s easy to fall into the trap of not getting the full story and labeling others villains/victims. “They didn’t tell me about that project changing. They hate me! They’ve been out to get me since day one.”

    When you catch yourself amid drama in the workplace it’s important to remain mindful of what you’re hearing, live your values and stay authentic.
    Brene Brown’s site has excellent resources and downloads to engage authentically at the workplace.
  25. Take a hot bath or shower. Light some candles, get some tunes going. Take a moment to feel the water, smell the soap, etc. If work or your grocery list comes into your mind, just note it and go back to being mindful of your actual senses. Have fun, blast that shower-singing music and belt your heart out.

  26. Say no. Go on. You can say no. The guilt fades and relief will set in. If you really feel like you can’t say no yet, try, “I can do that in 6 weeks.”
  27. Listen to podcasts. Invisibilia, Modern Love, This American Life and The Moth are just a few favorites in our office.

  28. Try adult coloring. Download free pictures online and on Pinterest.


laura_herrick.jpgLaura Herrick is the President of Nonprofit Management Group, which  focuses on securing joyful gifts, sharing your story and building lifelong relationships. Laura has served in a wide range of development offices from a 2-person shop with a small budget to a larger shop with a $36M annual budget. She is passionate about the power of philanthropy to change the world and the need to recruit and retain great people in the field. Laura has helped raise $250 million for human services, arts and culture and religious organizations throughout the country. She lives in Wilmette with her husband and two children.