Do you have Bad Boundaries?

Mazarine Treyz:Hey, everybody. Welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising, and I am very, very happy to introduce to you today Sheena Greer of Colludo. She knows so much about boundaries and she’s been teaching about them for a while now. Sheena, thank you so much for being here.

Sheena Greer:Thank you for having me.

MT: Right on. Well, I have a couple questions for you because this next year at the career conference, we’re going to dive deeper into boundaries. So I wanted to ask you since we’ve both had fundraising jobs and worked in nonprofits for a long time, what happens when people who work at nonprofits don’t have good boundaries?

This is Sheena Greer, founder of Colludo

SG: Well, I think boundary issues, there’s really no separating work from life. I think that people who have boundary issues – and I can speak for myself, because it’s something that I’ve really struggled with my entire life and have done a lot of reading and research and had self help on over the years. I think that, you know, when we’re taking on too much we get stressed, and people who have boundary issues are prone to taking on too much because they’re prone to saying yes to everything. They’re prone to taking on other peoples’ problems and trying to solve problems, and ultimately probably fundraisers or anyone in this sector are here because they’re passionate problem solvers. Of course, the risk of trying to solve everyone else’s problems is that it leaves us feeling really stressed and prone to burning out. So that’s the toll on the self.

But when you look at inside of an organization, if there’s boundary issues, often these issues go hand in hand with a blame and shame culture because people are willing to take blame and shame if something happens to go wrong. Unfortunately other people get the glory. It’s not that that matters, but when you’re working on a team and you’re sort of prone to saying yes and taking on a lot of work, if something goes wrong, it happens that that usually comes back in the form of blaming or shaming. That starts to muddy the waters of who’s actually responsible for what in your workplace? Suddenly you can find yourself doing someone else’s job or not really knowing where the line is drawn between different people. If you have a whole room of people who have very spongy or weak boundaries, it’s really going to muddy the waters in terms of who’s responsible for what and who’s leading what, and sort of what those ultimate goals are.

I think for the sector in general, when we keep as a sector agreeing to do more with less and for less, this system, this broken system that we’re in – and there’s lots of things, lots of issues that we could get into there. But that system just perpetuates it. If people are – well, I’ll just keep doing more with less resources and taking jobs that pay little money, little benefits or whatever. If we keep okaying that, that’s bad for the sector as a whole, I think.

MT: Wow, yeah. So you brought up a lot of really interesting things there in your answer to that question, and I want to go into all of it but I know we have a limited amount of time. So I’m trying to think of, okay, what can we do from here? But I feel like what we were talking about a little bit earlier before we started recording about sort of the blame and shame culture. My next question to you is going to be what are some symptoms of bad boundaries, but what you’ve sort of already started to answer is people blaming and shaming you. One of the things that you said before we started recording was there was a person who has to hide her gym bag when she comes into work because her boss will get really upset, but maybe silently upset, right?

SG: Yeah, well it was just passive aggressive. Like, oh, it’s nice that you can leave the office on time and go to the gym. Of course that makes you feel bad for – and I mean, people with weak boundaries say yes when they want to say no and they feel bad for saying no. They get overly apologetic when they do so. So in an example like that, this individual has said no to staying late because she’s committed to giving herself the time to go to the gym after work at 5:00, which I think that’s reasonable. But then the response to that is like this, oh, well, isn’t it nice that you get to do this while I’m stuck here doing my own work? It’s not like she’s leaving early and making her boss do her work. She’s leaving early to take time for herself while her boss hasn’t yet made the decision or commitment to herself to leave on time for herself.

And that’s just one example of that sort of, oh, isn’t it nice that you get to do this? In that example, that boss has bad boundary issues too, right? She’s not able to cut it at the end of the day and say yes to taking time for herself, and no to basically staying all night and doing the work that is really never going to be done, right?

MT: Right, exactly, and like you said before, the cause is still going to be there whether or not we go home at 5:00 or go home at 7:00 or go home at midnight, which I have done myself. So I think for anybody listening who has boundary issues who is recognizing themselves in this conversation, I mean, okay, great. We’ve identified that we have the boundary issues. So it’s obviously part of the culture at a lot of our nonprofits. I mean, is there anything we can do with an organizational culture that thrives on bad boundaries?

SG: You know, I think organizational culture is a tricky one. It’s a tricky one for individuals, and I think the problem here is that, okay, people that maybe have boundary issues are already trying to solve problems that aren’t theirs to begin with. So first of all, to just say, okay, it’s okay for me to have boundaries and recognize that you can’t solve that problem. Because that’s just another problem that you don’t need to take on. I think the first step is really to work on yourself and try to recognize the issues that you may have and why you may have them. I often pick on myself. I love this sector. I’m working exactly where I need to be. I’ve always had a big heart. I’ve always had a lot of empathy for people around me. I’ve always been very responsible in my relationships and my workplaces, and I’ve always been driven to solve problems.

Fundraising Career Conference 2016

So all of these things that essentially make this sector such a wonderful place to work are also a lot of the reasons why I’ve struggled with boundaries. I care deeply for people, so when I see – and I want to solve their problems. I want to solve problems. So when I see all of these broken things or things that need fixing or things that need help, or people that are struggling or whatever, I can’t help but want to just dive in and fix it for them. But in doing that, I also become this person that welcomes this in. If I step out and solve problems that aren’t mine, people are going to start to recognize that I’m the person to go to when it’s everything from the printer not working to them having deep existential crises of their own or whatever it is.

So it’s really about starting to focus on what brought you here, why do you struggle, and to start to recognize those boundaries in yourself and do some really deep thinking and reflecting on, you know, if I was to fix something. If I was to say no to one thing, how would that affect me and make my life maybe a little less stressful? What would the repercussions of that be? Because of course if we live and work in these spaces where there’s sort of all these fluid boundaries and everyone’s taking on all kinds of things, the moment you step up and say no like the boss with the gym bag, it’s going to feel really uncomfortable. People are probably going to fight back. So you really just need to recognize that this is really important for yourself, and hopefully you’re able to do the work you need to get what you need in that job space.

Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it doesn’t work. I’ve left jobs in the past for that very reason where I’ve been upfront and not pushy or whiny. It’s just like, you know what? For example, my kid when he was younger, he needed speech therapy. So every Wednesday I had to leave and take him to his speech therapy appointment. No, you can’t schedule meetings for me during that time. I’m not going to skip it or something. This is something that I need to do. And you just have to stand up for it. As tough as that is, and hope that you can set a good example. But remembering that you can’t solve that problem all into yourself.


MT: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I think that my question actually came out of – well, let’s just solve this problem too. And we actually need to step back and say but just me, though. What about me? Just me solving this for myself? Not solving it for everybody in my organization.

SG: Absolutely. Well, solving it for yourself, and I think that as we start to – when we get to a place where we can start talking about boundaries, again, I mean, it starts with yourself, to do that reflective work, and also to try to find a support system, whether that’s a spouse or a family member or friends. If you know other people in the sector, sometimes it can be because you’re working so hard you don’t get a chance to network with other people working in the sector. I’ve certainly found that.

Finding that network of people who work in the sector to just call up and be like, do you want to grab a coffee? And you know you can talk shop and they understand the sector in a way that maybe a friend that works in the corporate world doesn’t really get. Sometimes it feels like a different universe, right? But when you can find that support system for yourself, and also within reason keeping your boundaries and theirs intact. You don’t want to just dump everything on this poor other person who’s already dealing with other things. If you can start to have these conversations about how do you make decisions around this? Like oh my gosh, my boss asked me to do this and I really don’t feel comfortable and I really don’t want to do it but I don’t know how to say no, or whatever. If you can find those people that you can have those conversations with, it’s a really great place to start, and to be an equally supporting partner.

Like I said, you don’t go and just dump out all your stuff on them or vice versa. But if you can find those individuals or those groups to have those conversations with, hopefully you all come away from those conversations stronger and more capable to represent yourself in that work. I think maybe this is a bit grandiose. But you’re representing hopefully a vision for a better sector overall, when more and more people are able to stand up for their boundaries and stand up for themselves and honor the things that they need. I think that ultimately that can affect when we make our sector a little bit of a better place to work in terms of our personal boundaries.

MT: So that’s interesting. I mean, you actually anticipated one of my next questions which is what are some of the rewards of having good boundaries in fundraising, aside from making a better sector? Like hey, if somebody’s like oh crap, I don’t know if I can do this. What do you think is a reward of doing this?

SG: You know, and I can speak for myself, but really allowing myself to step up and say it is okay for me to have boundaries. It doesn’t make me a heartless person. It doesn’t make me a bad person or an ungiving person, and all of these things that swirl in our head because ultimately we’re giving people and we want to help people. Somehow saying it’s okay to have boundaries makes us feel like we’re somehow not giving, right? We need to be giving at like 110% all the time. But allowing myself to take things that I want and need to be happy and fulfilled ultimately makes me better at my job. I can’t describe how different it feels to get up and work in the morning, solving problems that I know I can work towards, that I’ve really actually agreed to work towards and not just sort of taken on. Although, you know, we all mess up. We take on too much even if we have better boundaries. But I think if we’re here to really try to change things and save the world or whatever, we need to be able to give ourselves some joy in doing it. That’s really such an incredible reward.

MT: Wow, I love that. That reminds me what you said at the career conference in this last year, in 2015, when you talked about Thomas Merton and how he said the frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. I really do love that.

SG: Yeah, and he talks about overwork as violence. It’s such a crazy, dark image. But just think of the violence we’re inflicting on ourselves when we’re doing too much, and really like he says, neutralizing our work. It’s a really powerful passage, and I think it’s something that too many of us are living in our day to day and not talking about it. You know? This is one of those elephants in the room, right? I think this connects to a different topic, or the larger topic or smaller topic. I’m not sure. There’s a parallel topic of the whole overhead dilemma, and I know it’s something that you’ve done a lot of thinking and writing and speaking on is just the idea of self care and how do we make this sector as a whole just a better place, not only for the people who are working in it, but for the problems that we’re trying to solve? I think they’re intimately connected in a way that I’m sure that we could talk about for another seven hours.

MT: We’ll solve this thing right now.

SG: Right. We’re the problem solvers.

MT: Right. We’re the problem solvers. No, but I mean, it’s good just to bring it up and just acknowledge that the problem is there. I really love it that you say this is a place to start. Start where you are. Start with you. Start acknowledging how this affects you and what your role is in this. Don’t blame yourself, but also think about, well, if I can control myself, then what can I do? So I love that.

SG: Absolutely, and it’s like the whole, you know, mote in the eye thing. We can’t really get to fixing other things and other people if we haven’t deeply reflected on ourselves. That’s difficult work to do, and self reflection is something that we often don’t have time for. We often don’t make time for it. It’s something that maybe feels like for some people, a little hippy-dippy. Like oh, self reflection. What do you want me to do? For a lot of people that maybe doesn’t fit into their image of doing yoga or meditating or writing in a journal. It doesn’t suit their lifestyle. But self reflection doesn’t have to be – you don’t need to go to a meditation retreat to do that. You just need to take the time to think about yourself and think about your work. I think thinking about ourselves without connecting it to our families and family pressure, community pressure, work pressure, whatever, to really just think about ourselves is an exercise that makes a lot of people uncomfortable because it’s like, I’m being selfish to think about myself.

You’re not thinking about yourself as in like, hmm, there are 17 cookies and I’m going to eat them all. It’s just taking the time to think about who you are and what you need to be able to give, to be a better fundraiser, to be a better parent, a better spouse, a better community member. A better member of a global community or whatever. It’s really important work to do that I think we need more encouragement, and that’s why I’m so happy that people like you are stepping out and talking about issues of self care, because we really need encouragement, I think. We need to be able to find a comfortable place where we don’t feel bad. We don’t have to hide our gym bags. I think that’s such a powerful metaphor. We’re all hiding our gym bags if we have them, right? And we shouldn’t have to hide them, or we should find a group of people, a community where we don’t have to hide our gym bags around. We can talk about our gym bags. Ultimately we need to convince ourselves first that it’s okay to have a gym bag.

Sheena Greer

MT: Yeah, it is, and also if other people around you don’t think it’s okay, then how can I hang out around people that do think it’s okay and spend more time with them?

SG: Absolutely, and that’s a tricky thing too. That’s something that I chatted with someone about recently. It’s like if you’re stuck and your boss isn’t letting you do your job or you’re unable to get what you need, the obvious answer is just to quit your job and find another one. I know that some of us have the luxury to be able to do that. But certainly some of us don’t. So how can we find ways to cope with that? I think ultimately the first steps are really towards self reflection and finding that community who will honor your choices and really support you, and also challenge you. Not make it harder, but ask you tough questions and make it a space where you can really grow and think about yourself. So yeah, a lot. It’s all connected.

Fundraising Career Conference 2016

MT: Oh, it is, and it’s fascinating and I want to hear more about this at the conference coming up. But until that time, do you have any services around helping fundraisers find joy in their work again or get better boundaries?

SG: Absolutely. This is huge for me, and for my own work it’s some of the greatest joy that I get is having conversations, either one-on-one or in a group setting just about, you know, what does it mean to work in this sector? It’s such a weird animal, this sector. People who aren’t in it don’t understand it. It’s a really wonderful, weird place to find ourselves. I’m into having meaningful conversations, and one of the things that I’ve developed over the last couple years is I call it a play date. So I really believe that the idea of play, whatever that is, isn’t necessarily a sport or whatever. But the idea of play is a powerful agent of change and disruption because it helps us to refocus on the bigger picture. So at these play dates, it’s a group of people from in the sector. It’s either a random group of community members who work in the sector, or it could be specifically on site for an organization. It’s really about hosting group dialogue that uses play. So making crafts and doing silly outside activities that helps us explore the complexities of these greater problems.

We don’t show up to a play date thinking that we’re going to get the answer for the overhead problem. But through exploring the problem, we find powerful ways that we can go back to our own desks and have some tools to help us manage and deal with it and also come away – especially if it’s a group of kind of random people, not everyone at the same organization. It gives you that built in network of someone to call and say, you know what? Can you grab a beer after work? This week was terrible. I have some questions and I want to get your input.

MT: I love that.

SG: And it’s so powerful to see that group form and to bring together groups who are just sort of – and I’m in a small city in Saskatoon. So everyone kind of knows each other or everyone should, but no one is taking the time to have these conversations, because of course everyone is too busy. So to step away from the desk, to sit around a table, glitter glue some stuff or make some sock monsters or something. It sounds ridiculous, but it keeps your hands busy and your mind is sort of focused on this silly task. It’s not a typical strategic planning session that leaves you feeling completely empty and hollowed afterwards. You get to have conversations with people who you really should be having conversations with, and be a little bit vulnerable and talk about the time where you allowed someone to take from you something that you really weren’t willing to give, or whatever those issues might be. It’s amazing to watch that group form over the silliest activities. Then they get to take those little pom-pom monsters home as a memento, as a reminder, that as heavy as things get there’s a group of people who are really ultimately working for the same cause of change, that we can call on when we need a little bit of help. I think that that’s a pretty powerful thing. So yeah, since you asked about services. So yeah, I offer play dates for community groups or organizations or whatever, and it’s been a really fun way to help people connect and think differently about the problems that they’re facing at work.

MT: I love that, and where can people find you if they have more questions, Sheena? I know you’re on Twitter at @colludos and Is there anywhere else they can find you?

SG: Those are the two probably best places to find me, but if they want to send me an email directly they can email me at

MT: All right. I will make sure we get that in the interview, and thank you so much, Sheena. I’ve learned a lot today. I listened to your presentation this year and I was just blown away, and I’m even more blown away to think this next year will be even a deepening and a broadening of more of these concepts and more ways and how-to’s to shift. So I’m really looking forward to your session. Thank you so much.

SG: Thank you, and yeah, for other people who maybe attended last year or who are interested in attending this year, if you have ideas or topics that you’d like to more deeply explore. I know last year it was a lot of content in a lot of different areas. So if you’re familiar with the content and you have some suggestions, I would be more than happy to hear those suggestions, and ultimately I want to create something that gives people something to take back and think about, and something that is really going to help them.

MT: I love that. Thank you so much.

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