Targeting burnout

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Stanley Sprague started walking every day at lunchtime.

Fred Stang finally got to greet his kids at the school bus.

Nan Griswold met her future husband.

All three nonprofit executives are among nearly 40 in North Carolina awarded sabbaticals since 1990 by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem.

The program aims to strengthen the state’s nonprofit sector by giving an “absolute break” to people in tough jobs, says Tom Ross, executive director.

“The key is to get away from the day-to-day grind of nonprofit work and the difficult and stressful work that it is, and give people a chance to renew themselves,” he says.

The program provides $15,000 each to five or six nonprofit executives a year to take breaks of three to six months to pursue activities “totally unrelated” to work.

Sprague, an attorney in the Greensboro branch of Legal Aid of North Carolina, had been on the job 20 years when he took his sabbatical in 2000.

“People get burned out in nonprofit jobs,” he says. “I certainly knew it was time for me.”

Sprague, who had been getting headaches at work, took three months off, including travel with his wife and playing a lot of tennis.

And when he returned to work, he started walking 20 minutes a day, and stopped getting to the office an hour early.

Griswold, founding executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina in Winston-Salem, had worked there 10 years before her sabbatical in 1991.

Along the way, her parents had moved into a retirement home, her brother had died and, in 1990, she had suffered a small stroke.

“We all have personal things that can happen in our lives, and then the work we do in nonprofits is very, very stressful,” she says. “I really was just exhausted.”

Griswold used her four-month break to travel, visit a spa, read, bicycle, garden and attend an Episcopal conference center where she met her future husband.

“I don’t think I would be at the Food Bank if it wasn’t for that sabbatical,” she says. “I wish more foundations and boards of directors would provide sabbaticals for nonprofit leaders.”

In 1990, when he was in the inaugural sabbatical class, Stang was working with abusive men at Orange/Durham Coalition for Battered Women, where he had worked 10 years.

“It was exhausting, challenging and could be very disheartening work,” says Stang, now director of development for the Triangle Community Foundation.

During his four-month break, he traveled with his wife, canoed for two weeks, took facilitation training, read and ran every day and, for the first time, was able to meet his two young children every afternoon when they stepped off their school bus.

“It was the first time that I was adapting to their pace and their schedule, instead of the opposite, which was a real eye-opener for me,” he says.

“Are we striving to be people who are the world’s martyrs,” he says, “or is it better to have a world where there are fewer martyrs but happier and more productive people?”

The deadline for applications is December 1. Call 800.443.8319.

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