Executive VP of Stewardship at Tillamook, a dairy co-op in OregonListen Now
After Susan Comfort and Tyecia “Ty” Powell each experienced burnout, they teamed up to start an organization called Nonprofit Wellness, which is focused on supporting teachers and nonprofit employees, who, in their commitment to caring for others, tend to neglect their own care.
Tyecia “Ty” Powell spent 15 years in schools, Susan “Yep, Real Last Name” Comfort spent 25 years at nonprofits. Both have seen too many of their colleagues — idealistic, intelligent people committed to changing the world — suffer a decline in physical and mental health, often burning out and ultimately leaving their jobs.
When Ty got into teaching, she didn’t realize how much she’d absorb her students’ trauma and relive her own. Despite her investment in a master’s degree, the stress and the happy hour culture drove her out of teaching and into yoga, Pilates, even managing a fitness studio.
Susan was trained in grassroots organizing, acclimated to the pedal-to-the-metal schedule of political campaigns, and then immersed in the stress of the nonprofit fundraising hamster wheel. She raised $30+ million over the years, mostly for small environmental and education groups. She was also dealing with personal stressors like birthing children and getting a divorce.
In 2017, a year into the Trump administration, Susan saw a plummet in already shaky nonprofit staff well-being in her 20-year adopted home of Washington, DC. While studying organizational development at Georgetown University, she developed a survey to assess the extent of the problem, and then a pilot program to address it at 12 nonprofits over six months. (See the results!)
Susan approached Ty (at the fitness studio) for a donation of classes and instructional time to the Pilot. Ty and Susan both marveled at the dual benefit they observed one fateful day: not only did the staff at the Free Minds Book Club enthusiastically participate in an in-office Pilates class, but they also bonded in a new, special way. The employees begged for another class, this time with their service population of citizens returning from the DC Jail, and the same thing happened — everyone had fun, together, through a shared experience (with music).
And that’s the light-bulb moment: Non-profit employees struggle to make the time for their own well-being, but they’re superstars at helping others. So why not turn their superpowers on co-workers in addition to constituents? When staff are afforded space, time, and institutional support to care for their wellness together, it nurtures their sorely needed self-care, sure. But through vulnerability and mutual accountability, it also improves team trust.
Now Ty and Susan, two native Baltimoreans born a decade apart, have joined forces as co-founders of Nonprofit Wellness.