Self-care is mission first.


As nonprofit professionals, we work hard to serve our clients and care for the mission. On the flip side, are we doing enough to care for ourselves?

A few of our colleagues would like to share what they do to stay positive, healthy and energetic. “How do I restore my most basic natural resource—myself,” asks Jennifer Moran, leadership director at the Evanston Community Foundation. Find out how she and five other changemakers sustain their well-being.

How do I restore my most basic natural resource, myself?  I am not sure I do the best that I could, but there are places and spaces and activities which do fill me with peace of mind. I love to cook. The preparation is my meditation. As I curate a meal,  I think about a part of the world I would like to know better through the food.  Each culture has a “comfort” food so I start there.  It could be a savory Pho, a spicy Korean pancake, or the best homemade Matzo ball; it is the process that allows me to focus and create. Every sense is involved and I love it. The end result requires a beautiful table and honest conversation to honor the effort. It is the moment where my family and guests will enjoy the flavors, the textures and the sharing that comes from sitting together in a circle.   The entire experience is what makes me feel joy.
— Jennifer Moran, Evanston Community Foundation

We owe to ourselves to take time to relax and recharge to maintain the focus and energy that drives our commitment to the important work of the nonprofit sector.  I personally find exercise, time with family and friends, and catching up on a few favorite TV shows are just what I need!
— Andreason Brown, Spencer Foundation

I read a great deal during the course of the day.  I also respond to approximately 300 emails a day.  Many nonprofit managers are awash in information, phone calls, emails, tweets, and meetings all day.  In order to relax and lower my stress level, I concentrate on my breathing while enjoying a strenuous workout. I sometimes take a walk along the lakefront and look at the water lapping the shore while thinking about nothing else. Sitting on a park bench in a remote area lets me concentrate on a bird formation in the distance until the birds are out of view. I enjoy visualizing a happy experience and thinking about it from start to finish: the best meal from salad to dessert especially a pint of my favorite ice cream, the first time falling in love and embracing that person. Whenever I can, I close my eyes and meditate, pray, or think a kind thought.
— Joanne E. Howard, Ph.D., Illinois Institute of Technology

Learning to value my personal time has been the best way for me to stay positive and energetic while working in the nonprofit sector. For me, relaxing and recharging can be as simple as saying “no” or taking time off. I know I’m not at my best when I’m stressed and exhausted, and I’m not doing anyone any favors if the quality of my work depreciates as a result. Knowing when to take a break and step away makes me a better me – personally and professionally. It’s easy to feel guilty about declining a meeting or taking a vacation, but sometimes you gotta do you.
— Carlos A. Trejo, Marillac St. Vincent Family Services

For me, mindfulness apps have been a lifesaver in terms of helping to create a calm space in my day. Even if I only have a few minutes for a guided meditation, that’s usually enough to help me find some peace of mind.
— Erika Gryniewicz, Heartland Alliance

Like many of my colleagues, it can be a real challenge to find time to unwind.  Thanks to my Mom, I grew up learning how to cook and, especially, enjoy preparing dinner now for an always enthusiastic, supportive and appreciative husband – no matter what’s on the table! Is there anything more fulfilling than sharing time with friends and family over delicious, homemade food?  I think that’s what compels me to strive so hard at Care for Real to ensure our clients have the same opportunity.
— Lyle Allen, Care for Real

It’s now your turn to share. What do you do to relax, recharge, and return to action with renewed spirit?

(Real) Thoughts on Wellness

abstract art watercolor painting human meditating calm peace design hand drawn

Guest post by Jemilah Senter

A lot of people, myself included, subscribe to the notion that to love and care for others, we must first love and care for ourselves. Yet in practice, it seems that many of us, particularly in the mission-driven sector, can be rather neglectful when it comes to focusing on self-care, likely because we expend so much effort in caring for and supporting others.

Imagine that you are speaking with a client who you know could benefit from some words of encouragement. However, at that moment you are personally feeling quite negative, stressed, and otherwise not particularly positive. How difficult it is for you to make (fake) your way through that conversation? Think about how much easier that conversation would be if you felt positive and encouraged in your own skin. I think most would agree that it is much easier to project—to authentically project—positivity when you yourself are feeling positive.  

In theory it seems like a no-brainer, but in practice, it takes a lot of intentional thought, discipline, time, and often change. In other words, you must commit to self-care, and you must act on that commitment. 

To help my overall well-being, I eat (relatively) healthy and I exercise (somewhat) regularly. I have a membership at a fitness club but when I can’t make it I don’t beat myself up about it. Instead I try to get active in another way. Sometimes that’s finding a workout on YouTube that fits the amount of time I can spend. Other times I may take a walk, and other times I simply let it go with the knowledge that missing a workout or two here and there isn’t going to put me in the grave. 

I also strive to maintain work-life balance. In my role, the work is literally never ending, I can’t think of a time that I’ve been truly “caught up” with nothing to do at work. But I know that to be well, I can’t regularly bring work home or let my growing to-do list give me anxiety and keep me up at night. The work will be there, but if I let the stress pile on, I may not. So, I do what I can, attempt to prioritize, manage expectations, and accept that I can’t do it all. 

Finally, and probably most importantly, I live by the mantra “work hard, play twice as hard”. For me, that means spending time with friends and family, devoting thought and energy to my hobbies, and volunteering to make a difference for others outside of work.

Jemilah Senter is Director of Marketing and Communications at Illinois Action for Children, a nonprofit working to ensure that every child in Illinois — particularly those in need — have access to the resources to succeed in school and in life. Jemilah can be reached at

Where Are You in the Story Cycle?

Think back to elementary school when your teacher showed your science class a diagram that explained how water took various forms in a never ending loop. The illustration below might seem familiar, but what’s wrong with it?
I think this version of the water cycle is missing one critical player — You. Human impact on the environment has evolved enough to drastically change the story of water. But that’s a whole different subject. I want to focus instead on positive transformation.

One blog post from Seth Godin talks
about demand – should you harvest or create?
According to Mr. Godin:

“You don’t need to persuade everyone that you have a great idea, you merely need to persuade one person. And then make it easy for that person to share.”

Key word: Share. How can your new evangelist do that? Only if you give them a story they can easily understand, be passionate about and spread. Only if they can easily make it their own. It’s still your story but in a different form that their audience (hopefully to become yours) can relate to. As your story continues to be retold, it reaches a different audience – like water taking the next step in the cycle and taking on a new form.

The difference between your story cycle and that of water is that it stays essentially the same: two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. On the other hand, your organization has the opportunity for real transformation with every turn in your cycle, becoming more relevant and more in sync with your growing community as their stories feed back to you and yours to them. There is one element that must be present throughout – trust. It’s what keeps the cycle going.

And it all starts with one person and your story.

Learn more about how we can help you transform your organization through story.

Innovation (and great storytelling) happens at the intersections

When I took Barkada Circle® through a rebranding process in 2017, my biggest challenge was being able to create a clear pitch with a simple narrative behind it. Yup! There I was, storytelling consultant to nonprofits, trying to write my own story, and not knowing where to begin. The problem was not a lack of vantage points. It was quite the opposite; I had too many. Eventually, I was able to buckle down and figure out my story about storytelling.

My challenge stemmed from multiple interests I’ve accumulated through the years.
In my 20s, I was an undergrad with academic pursuits in art, engineering and design.
In my 30s, I was a full time graphic artist for a global manufacturer of dental products
and building a freelance business with clients from various industries. When I turned 40,
I launched Barkada as a birthday gift to myself (What normal person does that?).
Storyteller, designer, illustrator, writer, industrial engineer, public speaker, workshop
sherpa⏤you get the picture.

According to Emilie Wapnick, author of How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who
(Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up
, folks like me are called
“multipotentialites⏤those of us with many interests, many jobs over a lifetime, and many interlocking potentials.” A multipotentialite herself, Wapnick has been a musician/songwriter, a web designer, filmmaker, writer, law student and entrepreneur. As a career and life coach, she helps other people with wide and varied interests understand and appreciate who they are in a society that asks us to pick a lane and stay in it.

In her TED talk, Wapnick points out three multipotentialite super powers. I’ve realized
that these qualities enhance my abilities as a storyteller, or they’re probably the reason
I am one:

Idea Synthesis⏤Combine two or more fields and create something new at the intersection. Innovation happens when seemingly unrelated concepts converge. It’s where we can spark new ideasjust like in the movieswhere two opposing characters meet to spark tension, intrigue and an interesting journey that changes them forever.

Rapid Learning⏤We’re less afraid of trying new things and stepping out of our comfort zone. Helping clients to become better storytellers requires me to approach them with
curiosity. Listening to their stories while keeping an open mind means that I have to be willing to move aside my preconceptions, absorb new information like a sponge and,
in some cases, even relearn what I thought I knew.

Adaptability⏤In today’s world, change is fierce and it comes fast. Shared stories can hold members of an organization in a common personal bond. A culture rich with storytelling helps to anchor them to the mission so together they can weather the storm and thrive.

We have a stack of complex, layered problems in the world, and we need creative,
unconventional thinkers to tackle them. Multipotentialites make great connectors and
collaborators. Armed with their breadth of skills, knowledge and vocabulary, they can speak multiple languages across various fields. They can translate information into stories that can be understood and acted upon by others to get the work done.

Wapnick closes with this message of encouragement: “Embrace your many passions.
Follow your curiosity down those rabbit holes. Explore your intersections. Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life. And perhaps more importantly
⏤multipotentialites, the world needs us.”

This multipotentialite storyteller is ready to help you find the intersection where a new
story can spark your next innovation. Fill out our contact form or call 773.852.3522 today.

Keeping It Simple Keeps It Real.

Folks have asked me how best to tell their mission story if its core is a highly
sensitive subject. And who should tell the story?

One subject that deeply resonates with me is mental health.
I’ve been a volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide
for the past four years, helping people register at the Out of the Darkness Walk of AFSP’s Illinois Chapter.  I’ve always been inspired by the outpour of love and support at this annual event.

With support from The Jed Foundation, the Ad Council and numerous donors and
volunteers, AFSP recently launched a national campaign, “Seize the Awkward.”
The goal of this campaign is to empower teens and young adults to reach out and
help a friend who may be struggling with their mental health.


“Seize the Awkward” provides information and tips for starting that essential conversation with a friend. It does so in a light tone without diminishing the seriousness and urgency of the situation. It works because it’s simple, honest and touches on what teens and young adults–and even what the rest of us–experience every day.

And, they feature actual stories from a few who “know how it feels.”

Was this useful or relevant to what you’re doing? Check it out and let me know.