The Playdate: Creating Safe Spaces For Nonprofiteers

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In the social sector, the work we do makes the world a better, safer place.

In the process of doing this work, however, we become vulnerable. While I am an advocate for (and regular practitioner of) vulnerability, too much can come with a heavy price tag. The work we do takes a toll on us, often shatters our boundaries, and can leave us feeling… unsafe.

I had worked in the non-profit sector for a decade before I stepped out on my own to do consulting for nonprofits. In my first year of somewhat being on the outside looking in, I noticed five themes emerged in almost every conversation I had with people about the work they were doing.

  • They are severely stressed from being overworked
  • They feel terribly isolated at their desks – both from co-workers and from others in the sector
  • They feel trapped in a world of policies that don’t give opportunities to think outside the box
  • They are wonderfully driven to do more – within their organisations and in the broader community of “do-gooders”
  • They are too stressed, isolated and trapped to even know where to begin
  • They don’t feel safe to talk about it

All of this leaves people feeling unsafe to really talk about things. We’re all part of the same community, yet if we talk too much about what’s going on with others, there is fear of how this information could be used against us. Co-opetition – which I use to describe that feature of the sector which propels us to collaborate and yet compete – is difficult because it puts the well-being of organisations ahead of the well-being of the people they are serving, and they people who work for them.

Similar to when I suffered postpartum depression and felt “shouldn’t I just be happy?”, nonprofiteers are weighed down by the idea that because we are here in this sector we should suck it up for the greater good.

I call bullshit.

But now I finally have a chance to do something about it.

Last fall, I held my first ever Playdate. This week, I’m holding another one.

One day. A handful of nonprofiteers. Big ideas. Hard questions. And play.

The day was loosely organised to help address those 5 themes

  • A day away from the desk to do something silly, fun and completely unorthodox
  • A day to spend getting to know some other people in the sector
  • A day to look at problems in whatever sideways, unusual, or “heretical” ways possible
  • A day to think about what we can do as individuals and a group to create more awesome
  • A day to just pause, and begin
  • A day to feel safe

Facilitating Playdates has become a passion, a labour of love, and truly the best way I can think of to give back to the sector. The outcomes are priceless.

  1. Individuals gain resolve by allowing themselves the time to play, think, bitch, and plan
  2. Groups are formed, friends are made, and no one leaves the room the same
  3. Organisations are stronger to have staff who were involved, coming back with new ideas, fresh perspectives, and hopefully a little less weight on their shoulders
  4. Communities benefit by an ignited (or reignited) passion for social leadership
  5. The sector has one more safe place, a place that anyone is welcome

The Playdate model certainly isn’t the only way we can create safe places for nonprofiteers, but I believe it is a powerful one. I am excited to hear what safe places you have, and what places of home you have experienced in your work.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Playdate, or want to hold one in your community/organisation, I’d be thrilled to hear from you.

“The Playdate was something of a side road off the motorway. Thrum and hustle ceded, if only for a few hours, to the sort of slower motion meandering crucial to remembering why you hit the road in the first place.  Meaningful conversations, shared experiences, sharpened thinking.

And play.

A most unique and unexpectedly fruitful day whose takeaways have since reinforced the essential role the scenic route plays in not-for-profit leadership.”

Shaun Dyer, Executive Director, John Howard Society Saskatchewan