What Family Road Trips Taught Me About Nonprofit Life

I love family road trips. They are a chance to learn about yourself and your family – for better or for worse. When I was a kid, my family would make the trip from the East Coast of Canada down to my father’s hometown in New Jersey every summer. In my mind this was a 45-hour trip. I think in reality it was about a 14-hour drive with stops. As I reflect back on those times, there are so many life lessons I learned with my parents and two siblings crammed together in our Honda Accord. And as I reflect even further, these lessons can inform and inspire my motivations in work and in life.

Make The Most of Your Rest Stops

During these family trips, I spent a lot of my time sleeping. I would fall asleep almost as soon as I got into the car, and would stay asleep until we stopped. Sometimes I would even stay asleep at a rest stop, only to wake up 20 minutes after we were back on the road, needing desperately to go to the bathroom or get something to eat. For me, these were missed opportunities to rest, recharge, and think through my next steps. Of course, I was a kid – so my next steps didn’t involve making big decisions or changing the world. But your next steps are. (Because you are all rock stars who are changing the world!)

Making the most of your rest time is all about time management. In the nonprofit world, it can be so easy to work entire days, weeks, or months without taking proper breaks. There always seems to be more work to be done! But making sure you are taking time to reset will help your overall productivity. In this article on Nonprofit Pro, the author suggests that delegating, creating timelines and schedules you stick to, and asking for help are all perfect ways to manage your time and effort. Time management will also help you prioritize and set up for future success.

Highs and Lows

One minute, I’m laughing in the back seat. The next minute, we’re lost and definitely just missed our turn. There are ups and there are downs on a road trip. And in your nonprofit career, there are those same highs and lows.

You just ran a successful fundraising campaign and exceeded your goals for the year – high! Or you’ve lost a few major monthly donors and are struggling to re-budget and re-prioritize your next steps – low. Both of these situations are great opportunities to grow. They are opportunities to work as a team to meet your problems head on, and to focus on improving your own performance.

Working Through Personal Conflict

If you’ve ever had the privilege of being stuck in a car for any length of time with your family, you know the struggle of pet peeves and personal space. You quickly learn that it drives your sister crazy when you kick her seat. And you know that if your brother asks your mom “are we there yet” one more time, she might just snap. It’s a unique struggle to be trapped in a car and then hope to come out on the other side and still like each other!

The same goes for nonprofit organizations. Many of you feel like family. You’ve been at your organization for a long time and you know how to work together. You also know what makes your neighbor tick, and they know what drives you crazy. Coming out on the other side of a stressful fundraising campaign, or an exciting wealth screening project, is a huge accomplishment! It’s a great thing to always remember that your coworkers are human just like you. Everyone has flaws and different ways of handling stress or solving problems. But that’s what makes your team great.

One amazing thing about being a part of a family, or a nonprofit family, is the different skill sets found in one group of people. You may be the analyzer/researcher with all the great questions. Or maybe you’re the event fundraiser with some exciting big-picture ideas. Or maybe you’re part of the development team in charge of maintaining donor relationships that keeps everyone focused. No matter what role you play, you are absolutely integral to the success and function of your nonprofit family.

Games of Life

We were a road trip game family. We loved playing the “count the motorcycle” game, the “license plate” game, and the “red car” game. And although these games in large part were time-wasters and ploys of our parents to keep us distracted, they were a great opportunity to improve our skills. I can now tell from a mile away, which state a license plate is from. I mean common, that’s a life skill.

But in all seriousness, keeping your brain sharp is important. Whether you like to exercise your brain by playing actual brain games or maybe just by attempting to learn a new skill, it is so important to prioritize your own personal and professional development. And don’t forget, sometimes we just take ourselves too seriously and need to bring a little more fun into our lives and the workplace!

Stopping For Random Distractions Along the Way

Have you ever seen those billboards that promote “The World’s Tallest Rocking Chair” or “The World’s Largest Golf Tee”? (Fun fact – both of those things can be found in a little town called Casey, Illinois.) I’m not sure the percentage of people that actually stop for things like that, but I recommend it (the rocking chair is very impressive, in case you’re wondering). Your work is hard. It’s exhausting and draining. Making the choice to steer in a different direction in order to bring a little laughter or a little break into your day-to-day can really change your outlook. Check out these tips for bringing a little work/life balance into your day.

Family road trips are a chance to learn, to grow, and to rest. Most of the lessons I’ve learned from those experiences are about taking the time to refocus. In the nonprofit world it’s so easy to keep charging ahead, up the seemingly insurmountable mountain of tasks. But sometimes it’s best to breathe and take a moment to think, am I heading in the right direction? Am I learning all I can from this experience? Am I a help or a hindrance to my family of peers around me? At the end of the day, you’re a nonprofit pro doing amazing work. Make the most of your rest time, play games, enjoy each other, and be proud of your accomplishments.


About the author: Liz Corney is iWave’s Content Marketing Manager. She has a degree in Journalism, is a fiercely positive team-player and a creative self-starter. She has experience working in software technology, video/mobile games, learning & development, social & traditional media, and communications. Liz is also the co-founder of a local nonprofit organization working to better the lives of homeless women in her community.

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