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Feb 1, 2024 | Blog

Deepening Impact through Intentional Seasonal Breaks

By Maria Turnbull, Associate Executive Director at Vantage Point

Just 2 months before the COVID-19 lock-down, I was away in Phoenix, Arizona, for the Nonprofit Lifecycles Institute’s annual conference. While my family, back on the unceded and ancestral lands of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation, experienced arctic flows and heavy snowfall, I was learning about a different aspect of winter – the period of hibernation often associated with nature’s coldest cycle.

The analogy the conference consultant shared stuck with me – the striking water lily. Water lilies, like many other plants, need periodic “wintering” to experience a dormancy, or a period of rest, to build back strength and resources for their next blooming cycle. As a non-profit leader and capacity consultant, how to apply the concept of building in structured pauses into our demanding non-profit work was at the forefront of my mind as I traveled home. Perhaps I would have had a more immediate opportunity to apply the learning if the pandemic hadn’t soon shifted us into an entirely different cycle.

Vantage Point’s work ebbed and flowed through the initial pandemic “shutdown” and the gradual “reopening”, until midway through 2022 when the pace shifted into a renewed growth phase, bringing with it revitalized momentum for our mission. With increased demand, the work has since required a sustained intensity of effort that I don’t think I’ve encountered since joining the organization back in 2006.

Late last year, as we grappled with the challenging impacts of not having enough time, we began to acknowledge the pace wasn’t going to slow down unless we began to make some changes. Finally, 4 years on from hearing of the water lily’s lessons, and with encouragement and modeling shared by Impact Organizations of Nova Scotia (IONS), we are now incorporating planned and intentional seasonal pauses into many aspects of our non-profit education and consulting work to build more rest, relationship-building, and, ultimately, more impact into our work.

In our commitment to being a “living lab,” I outline below some of our initial objectives in these seasonal pauses and look forward to sharing our learnings a year from now:

  1. Reflect on what we have learned to innovate more (and react less)
    • We have identified at least a week, 4 times over the course of the year, when we will take a break from direct client engagement work, to make space for individual and team learning and reflection, to assess opportunities to re/develop programs or adjust our course, set new goals, and gain important perspective.
    • We know we are more creative and innovative when we are in a more relaxed and open state of mind. We hope our seasonal breaks will allow us more time to connect, share, and adapt.
  2. Relationship, relationship, relationship
    • As we have learned along our journey to strengthen equity, diversity, and inclusion at Vantage Point, we know building meaningful relationships are key to deeper non-profit community impact. Through stronger relationships with colleagues, volunteers, clients, funders, donors, partners, and other collaborators, we can do so much more – and encounter more joy and fulfillment in our work.
    • The seasonal breaks are intended to bring more space to our days for ad hoc and structured relationship building time, both internally and externally.
  3. Resist damaging fatigue (aka burnout) and improve decision making 
    • I spoke with a leader just this week who has experienced deep and exhausting burnout, and learned just how long it can take to return to a healthy balance.  
    • Our team attended the Crisis Prevention Institute’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention Training this past week. In the course workbook, an article outlines some of the key attributes of a “calm mind” including greater emotional intelligence and better decision making.i These are essential skills required by non-profit leaders today, to deepen relationships, navigate change, and increase impact. Our minds and bodies truly are better when calm and cannot take the steady overload that many of us in the sector are experiencing. Even those who seem resilient in the face of stress and heavy workload are at real risk of burnout and will likely see the evidence show in their own decision-making.ii  
    • As I learn to lead more diverse individuals, I am grateful to be part of a collaborative team that is committed to slowing down, often against significant pressures, to build more consistent breaks into our busiest periods to proactively address fatigue and move from stressed, to calm minds.

Thank you for taking the time to pause to read about our journey. We hope you may reach out to share your own experiences in building intentional breaks into your work in service of growing your individual, team, and organization impact! We are excited to see what periods of rest, to build back strength and resources, will do for us and for you! 

For our clients who may be looking to engage with us this year, our team will be on seasonal pause the following weeks in 2024, during which time we will not be taking on any client engagements, including custom training, facilitation, consulting work, or client scoping calls. If you reach out to us during these weeks, we may be a little slower to respond to your request: 

  • Mar 25 – 29 
  • Jul 1 – 12 
  • Aug 26 – 30 
  • Nov 11 – 15  

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