EP009: Sarai Johnson is Creating Belonging instead of Burnout in Nonprofits

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This week, I speak with Sarai Johnson, a speaker, coach, author, and founder of Lean Nonprofit. When I first encountered Sarai, it was through a blog post she’d written about how nonprofits and foundations often unwittingly use management and funding practices that perpetuate the very culture of poverty and oppression they are fighting against.

Sounds like serious stuff, but what I so appreciate about Sarai is her ability to tell it like it is with humor and empathy. Empathy that comes from the fact that she’s been there too.

We talked a lot about how nonprofit work can feel like a grind. And we also talked some things we can all do to do better.

We talked about:

  • How to spot the ways workaholism, patriarchy, racism, and burnout show up in nonprofits

  • How applying LEAN principles -- a planning process popular in Silicon Valley -- can help create a culture of belonging

  • How to leave your nonprofit job without burning out or burning it down

Get this episode's antidote to Burnout Culture

ANTIDOTE is an every-other-week email, inspired by my work with clients, and my conversations with social impact leaders and innovators on the Dialogue Lab podcast. 

For instance, the week after this interview comes out, I’ll be sharing an email based on my conversation with Sarai that delves more deeply into the topic of overwork in the nonprofit space. I’ll be unpacking what mindsets fuel it, and how we can all take steps to bring ourselves, and each other, into more balance.

Interview Highlight:

[22:19] “I definitely had this point in my career when I was still working in the nonprofit, when I was like, ‘oh I'm a workaholic.’ And like I thought it was funny. You know, in a way I was like ‘haha, I’m addicted to workahol,’ and everybody thought it was cute. We were all doing that, you know?

“We go to work at 7 AM and leave at 7 PM, and be like, ‘cool cool cool,’ and then I’d stay up all night to write a grant and send emails at 3 in the morning. Like, I don’t even know how I slept or what I did. And meanwhile I’m having babies, and going to grad school. Like, I don't know.

“But what was really weird was I did have this moment where I was like, ‘Oh, that's not healthy.’ But yet the mission of the work that I was doing was so compelling to me that it... kept winding me up to go back and do more.“ 

A big thanks to our sponsors:

Sasha Allenby is a ghostwriter for thought-leaders in the social evolutionary field, specializing in books on socio-economic, racial, sexual, gender and refugee equality. www.sashaallenby.com

Alexis P. Morgan is a writer and artist. You can see her unfolding work, “The Season of Maya,” at https://www.thechurchofsaintfelicia.com/