Tag Archives: non-profit

Sabbatical, part 2

So it has taken a while to get round to writing this update on my sabbatical. Where does the time go?

As Sabbatical, part 1 [see previous blog] came to a close I was running out of time and had also begun the massive challenge of disentangling my work and personal life – as I write this remains a work in progress. A lot of it done but much more work involved than initially thought and so the plan is to complete this over Easter when I have booked two weeks off.  Nevertheless it was probably one of the singly most useful things I did whilst off that will contribute to my health and wellbeing in the long run.

It turned out that a lot of the latter part of my sabbatical has the themes of ‘awards’ running through it!

I was delighted to be invited to be a judge for some local awards that recognise good work in our local community – everything from new business to volunteers.  So one evening in early September was dedicated to going through tons of entries and on the evening of the 6th October we celebrated all the winners and runners-up at a glittery black-tie dinner courtesy of one of my favourite local haunts, The Talbot Hotel, Malton.

Remaining on the theme of awards I also attended a further black-tie dinner and ceremony in London during September where I was up for ‘Charity Chief Executive’ in relation to my day-job and my good friend Rebecca Adlington, the quadruple medal Olympic swimmer and all time legend was also up for Celebrity Charity Champion (also in relation to my day job and the  Encephalitis Society).  The team at work very kindly let me out of sabbatical for the glitzy night in London.  Neither of us won but it was great to be a finalist and I was the only woman in my category, and even managed to get myself  ‘hot date’ for the evening – not bad for a middle-aged misanthrope – and thank you Freddy for stepping up!

Watching from afar I was also thrilled to see my Encephalitis Society team smash two industry awards for our digital work, bringing home trophies from the Charity Times awards for Fundraising Technology, and from the Digital Impact Awards for Best Use of Digital by a charity.

During this sabbatical I had invested heavily in my health and fitness.  At the time of writing I have now been doing Pilates for 18 months and been back on a cross training regime for a year.  I have lost 22lbs and am probably in better physical health than I have been since my 20s or 30s.  

Then as you know I departed for Sri Lanka and there is a previous blog on this to read if you are interested in my merry jaunts around that beautiful country.

As those of you who know me or who have read other parts of this blog know, I lost my beautiful “Earl The Dog” in June 2017, and I still pine for him every day.  Whilst in Sri Lanka we spotted a dog online that we liked the look of and upon arriving back in the UK we drove the two hours to where he was for a “meet and greet”!  There would be a lot of work with him but he had a loving nature and although he suffered epilepsy we felt we could take him on and we collected him the following week having been fast-tracked through selection.  The latter should have sounded my alarm bells and what followed was two weeks of absolute hell.  I am only now able to write about it and plan my next blog to be about my experience of re-homing this poor chap and the cautionary tale of working with a rehoming centre who cared little beyond getting the dogs into a home – any home.  As I say a tale for another time so please watch out for next blog post.

After the return from Sri Lanka it was really only one week until I returned to work.  At this point I think it prudent to capture some of the vocational learnings I had as part of this sabbatical.  Of course my primary aims were to rest, reinvigorate and re-motivate myself.  I also wanted to get back on top of my health and wellbeing.  At varying levels I achieved all these.

It was extremely useful to watch the charity from afar.  Areas that needed work were much easier to identify when not in the thick of the day-to-day work – and there were two glaring realities that I knew would need focus when I returned.  I also returned to work with renewed confidence.  It was clear that before I departed I would sometimes avoid those difficult conversations because I was simply tired and couldn’t face them – understandable but not really what a chief executive should be doing.  

Just before I finished my sabbatical I began some work on emotional resilience at various levels – this is a work in progress and one I hope to commit more time to this year – this will hold a busy chief exec in good stead going forward.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was the sabbatical enabled me to realise I was not as emotionally attached to the charity as I thought I was, nor as other people thought I was – this was a bit chicken and egg on reflection as I can’t work out whether I ever really was emotionally attached or whether I adopted behaviours because other people thought I was.  This is not to say I am not highly motivated and passionate about what I do, I am, but I am not unhealthily caught up in it and this was both a surprise and a relief.

So sabbaticals are a funny thing – they need heaps of planning, and heaps of communication.  For anyone thinking about taking one then some of these pointers might help:

  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate with your team before you go and make sure everyone puts their expectations on the table and that you talk them through thoroughly and agree middle-ground where necessary.
  2. Having said that have your sabbatical is your sabbatical and do not take a sabbatical that is not your vision – it won’t work out if you take it to meet other people’s expectations of what your sabbatical should be.
  3. Plan your return and what that looks like before you go!
  4. Get a balance between personal and professional development.
  5. Decide what your priorities and goals are whilst off and stick to them.

More Issues than Vogue!

So there we have it – a renewed CEO post-sabbatical.  How do I know it worked for me?  In short, I am fitter, emotionally more well and robust, I am physically less tired at times when I would previously have been on my knees, I am more confident and I am very grateful to my team and my Board for allowing me this incredible opportunity.  I just don’t think people can work all their lives without having more than two weeks off at a time – if you look at it like that then it just makes sense, right?

I might still have more issues than Vogue, but I don’t care!  





If you google ‘sabbatical’ the definition that pops up first is thus:

1. a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.
“she’s away on sabbatical” 

I think the concept of having a sabbatical in academic circles is relatively common and not considered out of the ordinary.  Not so for many other professions and my world – the charity/non-profit world is one of them.

The problem is that I had worked for my employer for 18 years and to put it bluntly I was knackered.  I was still motivated by my cause and also by the amazing team I had around me but I was tired and my health was suffering.

As well as a high-level and often stressful job (anyone responsible for generating money in to their charity will know what I mean) I travel a lot in my role, both in the UK and abroad.  Now the life of planes, trains and automobiles along with airports, train stations, and hotels is not all its cracked up to be.  If I had a £1 for every time someone coo’d when I said I was off to London, or Cape Town, or Barcelona…and don’t get me wrong I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities my career has offered (but I have also worked hard for it).  The reality is often far less glamorous – stressing over lost suitcases (I haven’t travelled with hold luggage now for years no matter where I go or for how long!); eating on the run (there is only so many Marks and Spencer or Waitrose sandwiches one can eat) and pining for a hot meal; beds….oh the beds! – its a hit and miss affair what type of room you will get, where it is located in the hotel (opposite the elevators is a absolute no!) and the calibre of the pillows and mattress; Noise – hotel room noise – you have a 09.00 lecture to deliver however the rest of the hotel is in hen and stag mode until the early hours; The Flight – the person in front of you wants to have their seat reclined for the entire journey and you have no room to watch the little box tv in front of you, nor hold a book to read, nor to eat food should any arrive (travelling the entire way back from Sydney like this has scarred me for life (as you will learn as you get to know me through my blog patience and tolerance are not virtues I was at the front of the queue for when they were being handed out), then there are the lovely kiddies who want to kick the back of your seat for hours.  Another issue is our penchant for iPads and other hand-held devices – and those folk among us who want to watch them without earphones – on trains, on planes, in the restaurant on the table next to you – if I wanted to watch the footy or the latest Tomb Raider then I would do so with MY EARPHONES IN – I do not need you to share your interests with me! …OK sorry I have gone in to rant mode…back to the issue of the Sabbatical!

We looked long and hard at the concept of sabbatical before formulating our policy on it – and given that the charitable sector has been in for a bit of bashing in recent years (Kid’s Company anyone? The sad death of Olive Cooke.  The more recent safeguarding scandals in large charities – I could go on and I could write a blog about it – 🤔 hmmm, perhaps I will…) we were concerned about how providing a sabbatical may be construed.  We all agreed I needed one and we also all agreed that the reputation of our charity was important too.  So we started doing our due diligence and researching options.  Fortunately the concept of leaders in charities and non-profits taking sabbaticals is not as rare in the US as it is here in the UK and we found lots of evidence to suggest not only was a sabbatical important for the individual (reflection, revival, regeneration) but also for the company – in particular in two important ways:

1. It helped in succession-planning (what were the gaps if your current leader was absent, for whatever reason) and it also provided leadership opportunities to others in the organisation.

2.  The costs associated with providing a sabbatical to a senior leader are significantly lower than the costs associated with vacant senior posts and recruitment-costs associated with filling senior roles.

Indeed in the US and Canada there are some organisations set up to provide grants to enable non-profit leaders to take sabbaticals.   The concept of taking a sabbatical even has a term – ‘creative disruption’.  If you are at all interested in more detail about looking after your staff then a great starting point is a 2009 study conducted on facilitating sabbaticals in non-profit organisations:

Having said all of this I do think sabbaticals need thoroughly researching for any organisation and a clear policy needs to be drawn up – this is an opportunity to be clear about the rationale for sabbaticals in your organisation and also provides transparency – a word that some elements of the charitable and non-profit sectors have yet to embrace.  Procedure is more problematic and having had time to reflect on the way we delivered my sabbatical then processes and procedures of delivering a sabbatical need to be tailored to, and built around, the individual in question.

In respect of the value of sabbaticals Rick Tobias, Executive Director of Toronto’s Yonge Street Mission says:

If people in the academic world need sabbaticals, I would argue that the need is higher among those working with broken and wounded people, or healthy people with high needs, such as new immigrant families.

He goes on to point to the high rates of burnout, compassion fatigue and rapid turnover among people working in these areas of the charitable sector, and believes that sabbaticals are effective at combatting this burnout.

Now some of you may still be sceptical about sabbaticals in the charity/non-profit sector or indeed about the need for sabbaticals at all.  So this bit is for you…

In January I had a routine check-up with my doctor.  My heart was tachycardic (over 100 beats per minute) and we established I was operating like this a good deal of the time.  My resting heart rate even when asleep was still in the 80’s and so I was bundled off for an urgent cardiology appointment…turns out I wasn’t yet about to drop off my perch but this was a real wake-up call for me that has resulted in not only the sabbatical, but a will to lose some weight and get fitter – all three of which you will be pleased to hear I am on with.  For those of you who need hard-evidence below is a screen shot from my Fitbit which shows my resting heart rate in the month before my sabbatical (on the left) and my resting heart rate half-way through my sabbatical (on the right).

I am not suggesting the sabbatical and my absence from working life is solely responsible for the dramatic reduction in my resting heart rate in only six-weeks but I am arguing that the reduction in stress and the TIME to dedicate to myself, my fitness and my body IS responsible, and so ladies and gentlemen I leave you with the concept of The Sabbatical.

My next post will be soon and about what I have been doing on my sabbatical!