Vacation tips for nonprofit professionals who suck at vacationing

[Image description: A reddish daiquiry-like drink with a straw, standing on a beach in front of beautiful tourquoise water under a blue sky. Who would leave it there? How impractical is this? This is a great way for it to be knocked over, or for sand to be blown into it. Also, I hope that straw is compostable. OMG, this is the type of stuff I think about while I’m on vacation.]

Hi everyone, I am still in Vietnam. This was supposed to be a vacation, but I realize that I suck at vacationing. So I went on to the NAF Facebook community, made up of witty and attractive people, to ask for tips. The community did not disappoint! Over 500 comments came in within hours. I’ve highlighted a few below, in no particular order. If you are terrible at relaxing and recharging on vacation, perhaps some of these tips may help. Or not! Thank you to the colleagues who provided them, some while they were on vacation. With so many comments, it was hard to pick and choose, and many good comments were left out. Please check out the NAF FB page for the full thread (and add your own #NonprofitVacationTips on Twitter)

  1. Angela Forfia “Make a logic model with short, mid, and long-term relaxation goals. Develop a sustainability plan for your vacation. Draft elevator pitches for all tourist attractions that you visit.”
  2. Linda Romano: “Put up an out of office reply directing folks to a person whose out of office reply directs them to you. It’s the infinite loop approach to communication” 
  3. Kris Bein. “Make a two-page to-do list of enjoyment and relaxation. Then overschedule these activities to give yourself that comforting, familiar feeling of being behind and late”
  4. Cheri Kishimoto: “Set SMART goals that align with your vacation strategic plan to keep you focused on relaxing and sustainable vacationing practices. Take lots of notes and be prepared to do a 10-15 minute presentation to your coworkers on what you learned about relaxing on vacation.”
  5. Nell Veeder Newton “If you travel to a different town, be sure to bump into a local ED of a similar non-profit and spend at least an hour bitching and bragging while your family stares daggers at you.”
  6. Makenzie Allen Collie “Definitely be sure to sign your out of office response as ‘I will have limited contact to email,’ but check and return emails every day.”
  7. Tamera Rooney agrees: “Put on an away message that indicates you are on vacation. Then immediately respond to all emails. Under promise…over deliver.”
  8. Amanda Garner Swihart “While on vacation, it’s best to only check your work email once an hour. You deserve a break.”
  9. Amanda Straniere “Make sure you visit a museum so you can bring back their membership lit and map, check out their donor wall, note their interactive elements, and jot down programming ideas. Oh, and maybe look at an art.”
  10. Jaimie Nicole “While traveling, (literally) drag your family to local chapters of your org to see what they’re doing differently. Ask for a Tour. Enjoy family bonding time creating a strategic plan to implement some of their creative strategies at your own site, and crafting arguments for those who doubt your vision.”
  11. Brenda Stoneroad McLaughlin “Travel to a place with limited cell service and Wi-Fi. Then you can travel to the one spot with cell/Wi-Fi to spend all of your dinners with family on your phone checking emails. Your kids will appreciate the extra screen time.”
  12. Kathryn Humphreys “Time your vacation with a large, complex grant. Preferably federal. Enjoy the time writing while your family plays at the beach.”
  13. Dawn Watkins “Tip 1. Family bonding! Find at least three volunteer opportunities for you and your family to do together, but be sure it’s not related to your nonprofit, because, it’s vacation! Tip 2. Make art! Glue the financial YTD report to a canvas and make revisions using colored pencils and glitter. Tip 3. Meet new friends! Attend at least one gala or fundraiser and spend the most of the time with the development director and ED talking about grant proposals. While you’re there, jump in and help with the silent auction! Your family will LOOOOVE this one.”
  14. Kyle Bradley “Do not work on or complete any projects while you’re on vacation. Instead, stockpile an ever growing list of anxieties and concerns about everything that is likely going wrong right now and everything you will have to fix, catch-up on, or redo once you return.”
  15. Elizabeth Reiss “Give one staff member permission to call you in emergencies. Then tell that staff member her review will be right when you get back.”
  16. Sonia Mullenix Perillo “ I have found that if I hide in the bathroom to check my work e-mail, I can more effectively pile on the guilt when my husband checks his. Try to avoid colliding in that small space when you both do this at the same time.”
  17. Sarah Rowley “Learn to truly appreciate vacation time by never taking it.”
  18. Laura Marotta “During the first evening of your stay, as soon as your head hits the pillow, make sure to think of every possible thing that you could have done before you left or that could be going wrong while you’re gone”
  19. Isabel de Koninck “Go somewhere without internet or cell service. Also bring along several legal pads, highlighters and pens in various colors so that you can make color-coded anxiety fueled to-do lists for your return. If you forget your paper and pens, mentally make these lists while sitting on the beach, hiking in the woods etc and then have nightly panic attacks that you will forget everything on the list you just made in your head because you’re ‘so relaxed.’ Also make sure to have at least 3 dreams about forgetting to transfer sufficient funds into your payroll account.”
  20. Katherine Avila “Remember that if you were to die while on vacation, your position would get filled in no time flat. Then go and enjoy your time off.” (Thanks, Katherine. Now we can all start thinking about our own deaths while on vacation.)
  21. Christina Murrietta Fankhauser “Be sure to take pics of the gorgeous beach you are on and post it on FB. Boss will see and assume you don’t need a raise. Donor will see and assume your organization is paying too much in salary and overhead.”
  22. Alexis Cole “Definitely make sure to plan your vacation activities on butcher paper and give the family different colored post its with confusing instructions on how to vote for what to do”
  23. Priya Walia “Take a family retreat away from your vacation to create a 5 year relaxation strategy.”
  24. Brenda Watson “Bring an agency laptop, that you have to sign out. If you don’t sign it out, program staff will kill you when you get back. Leave your personal tech behind. You know that damn program laptop will barely work. Therefore, forced unplugging.”
  25. Kris Luethy McRea “Bring all the books that have inspired you. Every one. Because it adds unneeded weight to your suitcase and you’ll absorb the content by it just being near you.”
  26. Julie Leinhauser “Tell coworkers you are going on vacation, actually just work in peace and quiet without inside company emails.”
  27. Marie Reimers “Take a break from feeling guilty about not being at work to feel guilty that you’re wasting your precious vacation time by thinking about work.”
  28. Yvonne Trask “Visit an amusement park. Ride the roller coaster and scream. It’s just like being back at work and you will be enveloped in a sense of familiarity and safety. Then eat popcorn and try not to throw up.”
  29. Joycelyn Fish “Every time you check your email, take a shot.”
  30. Lindsay Layendecker “Collaborate with other families to design an innovative vacation with measurable results.”
  31. Tuyet Duong “Create a logic model based on new theory of change where main outcome is nonprofit staff lying on the beach because that improves client outcomes too”
  32. Aime Torres “Collect all the toiletries, garment bags, pens, note pads, & toilet paper you can from your hotel & return to the office as a supply champion.”
  33. Joan Kieselbach Thomas “1) When enjoying a beverage or a bite (not of hummus) in a room full of people talking, do not circulate, introduce yourself, or start a conversation asking something about them. In fact, with the exception of your companion(s), you are free from the obligation to make NO eye contact with anyone else in the room. Maybe you should just leave the room. 2. Avert your eyes from any and all donor recognition plaques anywhere. 3, Wherever you go, pretend you are researching your alternate career of kayak tour operator.”
  34. Julie Cooke “Try a wine tasting trip, but then once you’ve had a few, switch to very bold solicitation of the wealthy winery owners.”
  35. Lenise Andrade “Write an imaginary grant status report for how the vacation is going so far, as if the second round of funding was dependent on this report. What were your original goals? What were the expected outcomes? What challenges have stopped you from reaching those outcomes? And how would you use the additional funds to leverage support to reach those goals moving forward?”
  36. Elaine Chu “Get a massage and write a grant at the same time!”
  37. Sara Yell “When planning your vacation make sure to identify your mission, purpose, objectives, budget, inputs, outputs, evaluation process, and reporting dates, followed with the debrief notes.”
  38. A Charlene Leach “Pay someone to distract your board chair”
  39. Amy Rogers “Download Raiser’s Edge to your smartphone so you can update your database and run all your reports during those lazy days away from your desk and you’ll return to the office refreshed and rejuvenated!”
  40. Mandy Sims Day: “Create a scoring system for points earned for work done on vacation. For example: lead a webinar for a fellow nonprofit from inside your condo while you instruct your fam to go on to the beach without you-10 points. Earn bonus points if you can snag a photo of your kid trying to convince you to come outside and join them. PS: this legit happened today. I’m up 10 plus some great bonus points!”
  41. Gretchen Sell Jordan “Scrolling your work emails and not responding IS a vacation”
  42. Maria Dautruche “First, you must leave an accurate and honest away message like: I am unable to respond to your email because I am on vacation. Well, technically I cannot be on vacation because I am literally doing four jobs, and “we all” cannot be out at the same time; however, I must take vacation because we can’t afford the rollover of vacation days into the next fiscal year, so what’s really happening is I’m at the park and my personal phone to which many work emails are sent is on silent. Bottom line: I’ll get back to you in less than 24 hours.”
  43. Kevin Lee: “You’re going to want to bring some lite beach reading. Maybe a thriller. Like your YTD financials!”
  44. Shiloh Andrade Ballard “Pepper your tour guide with questions about the social problems of the country you’re in so that you’re learning while vacationing. ‘What is the #1 social issue for your country? Is there an issue with housing and homelessness and if so how is it dealt with? How would you rate the level of political engagement of folks in your country?”
  45. Scott Crawford “Be sure if you still can’t miss the conference call that you mute yourself on the beach. Otherwise, you’ll be that person with all the wind in the background.”
  46. Gina Taglieri “I always find, when visiting world famous museums, that the first thing I’m drawn to is the ‘donor wall.’ You just can’t turn that fundraising instinct off!”
  47. Sage Martin “Read a leadership book [such as Brene Brown] on your beach vacation and then feel crappy the rest of vacation for all of the things you’re not doing quite right.”
  48. Daria Skibington-Roffel “1. Pitch a tent in your back yard because that’s all you can afford because no one will provide a grant for operating expenses (like your salary). Turn off your cell phone if you really want to feel like you’re roughing it.”
  49. Elaine Stella “Step in the tub and rinse your footsies off, then towel them dry! Put on a fresh pair of soft socks if the weather or A/C is low enough.”
  50. Simon Mahan “Only vacation with potential donors.”
  51. Karen Righeimer “Delete your work email off your phone, then spend 3 days of your vacation frantically trying to find a computer to check your work email.”
  52. Ashley Smith “Attend a festival, make sure you offer to help.”

Or, this brilliant suggestion:

53. Fiona Burgos “Use the time off to create a PowerPoint presentation for colleagues about the importance of self-care.”

I know these tips were mostly tongue-in-cheek. Seriously, though, I hope that you will take a break. You deserve to relax and recharge. Your work, and our field, will be better for it. And it’s not like a catastrophe will strike when you’re gone.


54. Jesse Gilliam “My mom spent most of her career at a nonprofit in a historic building. People were like, go on vacation, it’s not like the place is going to fall apart! Well, she went on vacation and there was an earthquake and the place fell apart! Then they had to do a multi-year fundraising campaign to rebuild. So enjoy your vacation!!”

Be a monthly patron of NAF and keep posts like this coming.

Donate to Vu’s organization

Write an anonymous review of a foundation on

Subscribe to this blog by entering your email in the widget on the right of this page (scroll up or down)