“I left the field because I was tired and experienced burnout. Further, it was too difficult to take time off after a campaign and as a result, I felt stressed, anxious, unfulfilled and unhappy.”— Case Study Interview
“Funders should be “providing funds for people to get away for a week, to go get a massage, to just take your mind off of this massive campaign that you’re working.”— Case Study Interview
Questions to consider to allow for recovery and recharging
- What happens at the end of a campaign?
- What extra support for self-care, rest and mental health care do organizers need?
How to address special stresses of organizers
Sustainable and aspirational solutions to problematic practices
Organizers endure emotional stress due to working with people facing injustices in their current lives.
Attacks and threats by rightwing extremists, authorities or law enforcement can be traumatic for organizers.
Encourage self-care and be clear how organizing staff can use benefits to meet their needs.
Put limits on how many locations, relationships or campaigns one organizer is responsible for.
Offer sabbaticals for long-term organizers. While they require fundraising and budgeting in advance, they will have long-term benefits for movement-building.
Intense overwork near the end of the campaign. If organizers have to go right back to work, that’s a key moment for burnout.
Plan to shut down after the campaign ends, e.g., week off for everyone after the election or final decision.
Plan thorough debriefs after the rest period, to ensure lessons learned are rolled into the next plan and not ignored or forgotten.
Losing campaigns is so painful that despair and depression may ensue.
Sometimes organizers turn their anger against others in the organization, blowing up over small grievances.
Allow extra mental wellness days off in the month after a major defeat.
Create opportunities for everyone involved in a losing campaign to debrief, and to note achievements along the way, such as community awareness of the issue.
Acknowledge other ways that the organizers’ work strengthens the organization and mission besides campaign success.
Besides mental health parity in health insurance plan, budget for additional therapy for organizer PTSD.
Winning campaigns sometimes go unmarked.
Progressive activists have a tendency to focus on the negative, and to quickly switch focus to the next social problem, in the name of avoiding complacency. This can backfire by engendering hopelessness.
Give appreciation to everyone who played a role in the success, e.g. victory parties, certificates of appreciation. Encourage mutual appreciation by all staff and other stakeholders.
Remember to name organizers when reporting on the victory to funders, the board, journalists and the constituency.
Organizers feel isolated, like they are coping with the stress alone.
Sometimes there are issues they are uncomfortable bringing up within their own organization.
Staff can self-organize regular organizer-to-organizer gatherings, gripe sessions or support groups with organizers at other kindred organizations (e.g., in the same coalition, or working on same issue).
Include ‘Organizer PTSD’ and resources for healing from it in the onboarding packet for new organizers.