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Cartoon: stressed-out people working overtime at the Center for Work-Life balance

Life in the balance

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If you work or volunteer with a mission-driven organization — or a consultancy that serves them — it’s easy to get caught up in the “mission” and “driven” aspects. Taking time to look after yourself can seem like the ultimate self-indulgence when the world is on fire. And yet self-care is crucial if you want to be at your most effective in working for change.

Maybe it’s a little myopic to think that became a lot more important after November 8, 2016. Or maybe it’s just that a lot of people who are new to activism and organizing for change are going to find it out the hard way. Either way, there’s a book that can help. A lot.

(Regular Noise to Signal readers can probably sing along at this point. :))

It’s Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman‘s new book The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit. They promise “strategies for impact without burnout,” and the book delivers. (The fact that it also delivers a batch of Noise to Signal cartoons is, of course, a delightful bonus.) I heartily recommend it as a gift for both the grizzled campaign veteran and the activist n00b in your life.

(one of two people with adult coloring books) I'm doing the picture of the nonprofit staffer now. Do you have a color that says "totally stressed and burning out"?

Color me stressed

Color me stressed published on 1 Comment on Color me stressed

I completely didn’t grok the adult coloring books phenomenon when they first came out. Odd for a cartoonist, I guess, but coloring has always been secondary to the drawing process for me.

And then this summer we picked up To the Moon: The Tallest Coloring Book in the World. We still haven’t finished it, and we’ve been working on it in fits and starts… but it’s a helluva lot of fun. And I finally get it.

At some point one evening as I shaded an alien swinging from a fuel tank, I flashed on my parents and me as we colored DoodleArt posters on the coffee table in the 1970s. Nice to know there’s a multicoloured line from their coffee table to ours.

Coloring can be wonderfully relaxing, even meditative. Which is why it shows up (along with this cartoon) in Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman’s The Happy Healthy Nonprofit. “Strategies for impact without burnout” is the book’s subtitle…and if coloring in can help avoid burning out, then pass me the pencil crayons.

(Bartender to customer) Okay, one more triple bacon-infused tequila. But I'm adding a kale garnish because wellness.

Nonprofit with highballs

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Mm. Kale.

This cartoon comes from the foreword to The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, written by the witty and wonderful Vu Le. If you’re in the nonprofit sector, you need to read his blog — both for the wisdom and insight it shares, and for the comic relief he provides from what can be a pretty grim world out there. (Hey, that’s why we’re trying to change it, am I right?)

Vu’s latest post is titled “7 agreements for productive conversations during difficult times,” and he suggests seven ways we can make the rocky road ahead a little smoother for each other. Given the week we’ve just had, his timing couldn’t be better.

That’s the kind of care and compassion every nonprofit should embrace.

As a quick writing exercise, fill in three ways to get from that sentence to the idea of wellness.




Great job! And thanks for writing my segue for me! You’re awesome!

Wellness is at the heart of The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, the new book by Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman, featuring health-inducing cartoons by yours truly. They make the case for putting it at the heart of your organization, too — along with advice for doing just that. Go check it out, and I hope you’ll give it a read!

(Therapist to angry man holding two pieces of clipboard) I believe "snapped self-assessment quiz clipboard in half with bare hands" is a 3.8 on the Scarcella-Turgemeyer Stress Scale.

Under pressure

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Oh, stress. You’re the kick in the pants I sometimes need to meet a deadline or escape a pursuing grizzly. But you can also freak me the hell out, cause me sleepless nights, skew my judgement and make me think drawing a flurry of red ballcaps can stave off disaster.

It does the same to all of us. And organizations where stress as the main thing driving their staff can expect to see mistakes, conflict, accidents and a lot of people missing work because of illness. (So, more than just broken clipboards.)

Hence this cartoon, my latest from Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman‘s new book The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit. And hence the book’s point, which is not only to steer organizations away from burnout, but also to boost all-around performance. (Not to mention making people suffer a lot less. And lowering your office-supply costs.)

Go, check it out, and maybe give a copy to a nonprofit leader you care about.

I can’t stress that enough.

Extreme mute

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A public service message to people who use transit: if your mobile device is going to be peppered with inbound notifications, kindly. switch. off. the. audio. tone.

That helps reduce the stress of folks around you. What it doesn’t address is the stress that a constant stream of notifications can do to your blood pressure and cortisol levels.

Especially because it seems like every app wants to be able to get hold of you day and night. And most of the time it’s just to whine at you that you haven’t been using the app enough. (“It’s been three hours since you last posted a Fleg on the Flegmar App! Your Fleg score is falling! Your friendships are withering! You will die alone and unloved!”)

And it isn’t just apps. Now web sites get to prompt your browser to ask permission to notify you. (And usually they don’t say why. Just “Gary’s Hedgehog Fetish Site Wants You At His Beck and Call. Click here.”)

Paying attention to how our use of technology (and vice versa) affects our well-being brings us to The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, the new book by Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman. (Return visitors to Noise to Signal will know THHNP is replete with fresh new cartoons by yours truly.) As the book’s publisher describes it,

The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit presents realistic strategies for leaders looking to optimize organizational achievement while avoiding the common nonprofit burnout. With a uniquely holistic approach to nonprofit leadership strategy, this book functions as a handbook to help leaders examine their existing organization, identify trouble spots, and resolve issues with attention to all aspects of operations and culture. The expert author team walks you through the process of building a happier, healthier organization from the ground up, with a balanced approach that considers more than just quantitative results. Employee wellbeing takes a front seat next to organizational performance, with clear guidance on establishing optimal systems and processes that bring about better results while allowing a healthier work-life balance. By improving attitudes and personal habits at all levels, you’ll implement a positive cultural change with sustainable impact.

Sound good? It’s actually great, and I dearly hope it helps to transform the nonprofit sector. Plus, you know, cartoons. Get your copy here.

(one coworker to another as they look at a small, incessantly yapping dog) Clearly, there's some nuance to this "relieve stress by bringing a dog to the office" thing.

The sound and the furry

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Of all the cartoons I drew for The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, this was the most fun. It may be my favourite of all the dog drawings I’ve done (heaven knows I’ve drawn my share of dogs). I hope you like it.

You know what else drawing that dog was? Therapeutic. Maybe not as therapeutic as having an actual adorable animal in the office, but awfully calming. And finding some measure of balance through meditative drawing is just one of the practices that Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman suggest in their book.

A reminder if you haven’t followed this series the past few weeks: in The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, Aliza and Beth argue that wellness belongs at the heart of every nonprofit. And they give you solid advice for putting it there: through personal practice and organizational change. This is the fifth of the cartoons they invited me to draw for the book, and I’ll post several more in the coming days.

But you don’t have to wait on my posting schedule. You can see the cartoons right away with this amazing lifehack: ordering the book. Go! Go now! Fetch!