This Year’s State of Nonprofits Highlights Mounting Concern About Burnout

Christina Im and Seara Grundhoefer

Burnout is top of mind for nonprofit leaders in 2024, despite relative consistency in nonprofit organizations’ finances and relationships with funders. This is one of the key insights in a new CEP report, State of Nonprofits 2024: What Funders Need to Know, released today.

This report revisits the core questions from a similar survey of a nationally representative panel of nonprofit leaders a year ago, shedding light on nonprofit organizations’ staffing, finances, and relationships with funders in 2024.

In the report, nonprofit leaders overwhelmingly express concern about burnout — both for themselves and their staff — a concern that was present in last year’s report, too. Virtually all of our respondents indicate at least some level of concern about staff burnout, with a third reporting that staff burnout is “very much” a concern. On top of this continued worry about staff burnout, nearly 90 percent of leaders note some level of concern about their own burnout.

While burnout is a perennial issue in nonprofit organizations, our data indicate that nonprofit leaders’ alarm over the issue is not abating but rising. Half of those we surveyed are more concerned about their own burnout now than they were at this time last year. One leader told us, “I have been a nonprofit leader for 20 years and I’ve not experienced a reality like the one I am in currently. […] There are no trailblazers that have faced this path before us, to guide and advise, [for] wisdom. It is a wild world right now.”

However, finances remain relatively sound at nonprofit organizations, with most nonprofits experiencing a balanced budget or surplus in the last fiscal year. Likewise, most are also projecting that they will have a balanced budget or surplus in the current fiscal year. Just 15 percent of leaders both recorded a deficit in the last fiscal year and anticipate a deficit in the current year. That said, repeat respondents from across both 2023 and 2024 surveys were slightly more likely to report a deficit in the last fiscal year in 2024 than in 2023, suggesting some potential cause for concern.

Finally, when asked about their experiences with funders, a majority of leaders report that their funders are maintaining commitments or making new commitments to changing their grantmaking practices. These shifts include streamlining application and proposal processes, reducing or eliminating funding restrictions, and streamlining or revising reporting requirements. These findings about funder relationships build on a body of CEP research that has documented substantial change in funders’ practices in the last four years, explored in depth most recently in two reports: Before and After 2020 and State of Nonprofits 2023.

Also worth noting on the topic of shifting funder practices, however, is the finding that more than a third of nonprofits reported that their funders either have no commitments to advancing racial equity or have reduced or ended said commitments in the last year. While we can’t draw definitive conclusions based on this data, this finding speaks to concern many in the sector have expressed about a backsliding of commitments to racial equity practices in philanthropy.

Nonprofit leaders point to the importance of funders continuing to reflect and sustain positive changes. As one leader put it, “We desperately need general operating funds focused on sustainability and being able to build an infrastructure that will allow our organization to … invest in wellness for our staff, who have been working tirelessly to solve crisis after crisis since the pandemic.”

CEP will return with a third annual State of Nonprofits in 2025, taking the pulse once again of nonprofit leaders across the United States on these and other important topics. We hope to continue amplifying the experiences of nonprofit organizations for the individual and institutional donors who are so vital to their work — and in so doing, begin illuminating longer-term trends in the nonprofit sector.

Christina Im is a senior analyst, Research, at CEP and Seara Grundhoefer is an analyst, Research, at CEP.

Editor’s Note: CEP publishes a range of perspectives. The views expressed here are those of the authors, not necessarily those of CEP.

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