Five New Year’s Rituals for Nonprofit Professionals

Sand Dollar Beach, Big Sur

Rituals are intentional small, tangible acts done routinely and carry meaning.  Our family has several New Year’s rituals, including a nature hike.  This year we hiked by the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur. (Pictured above)

Rituals can also be used by professionals to boost personal productivity because rituals capitalize on our brains’ ability to direct our behavior on autopilot, allowing us to reach our goals even when we are distracted or preoccupied with other things. (In fact, there is a lab at Stanford that studies workplace rituals and a book, “Rituals at Work,” devoted to the topic)

For over twenty-five years, I do several rituals that help me prepare for the year ahead because they allow me to gain focus and clarity.  Here they are:


  • Review the Year:  I use tool called the “Year Compass, a free downloadable booklet that provides a set of structured reflection questions that help you look back and ahead.  Since I do this every year, I also look at what I wrote the previous year.
  • Start A New Professional Journal: For as long as I can remember, I have kept an annual professional journal, using a variation of bullet journal technique. I call it my “To Do, To Done, Don’t Do, Reflection List. I use it for annual planning and goal setting.I also use it as a reflection as the year progresses. I have weekly and monthly look ahead rituals, but not just tasks. I reflect on my themes for the year and habits to improve.
  • Update & Review My Work-Life Balance Plan:   In my workshops on personal and organizational wellbeing, I help nonprofits improve their personal resilience through life-work balance and self-care.  I use my own self-care plan template to write down what I will do. This year I will continue my commitment to creative activities including “Journal as Altar,” and calligraphy with fountain pens. I will also continue my focus on my physical health, particularly my daily step goal of 15K.
  •  Identify “My Three Themes”: I do a combination of Peter Bregman’s  theme for the year, and Chris Brogan’s “My Three Words.”  Chris Brogan’s technique is select three words, but I modify it by articulating key themes. I use the themes to guide my professional work and writing. I’ve used Chris Brogan’s technique for over a decade and found it very helpful in keeping me focused.
  • Write A FutureMe Email:  I use a site called “FutureMe” to write an email to myself post-dated a year from now, a practice I’ve been doing for a few years now.  I just received my 2021 email which begins with “As you read this, I hope the pandemic is in the rear window, we are all still healthy and we have been vaccinated.” Well, 2 out of 3 is not bad!

Year in Review
Here’s what I learned from looking over my 2021 professional accomplishments:

  • NTEN Lifetime Achievement Award: I was honored and very surprised to be awarded the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Lifetime Achievement Award. I’ve been part of the NTEN community since its inception and while this is my final year as a NTEN board member, I’ll also continue to be a community member.
  • The Smart Nonprofit:  Allison Fine and I wrote and submitted the manuscript for our second book together, The Smart Nonprofit: Staying Human-Centered in Age of Automation. The book, published by Wiley, will launch in March, 2022. If you want a sneak peek, take a look at the article we co-authored on nonprofit digital transformation published last month in the Harvard Business Review. In the first half of 2021, Allison Fine and I gave many presentations on our report, AI4Giving, funded by the Gates Foundation.
  • Workplace Wellbeing:   I published “The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout,” with co-author Aliza Sherman a few years ago. The book was well received and was #1 on Amazon’s Nonprofit Books many times. The stress of the pandemic prompted the biggest demand for workshops and speaking engagements, even though these engagements were online. I shifted a lot of my content and advice to focus on creating a life-work balance when you work remotely and how to create a more connected virtual team as well as digital wellness.
  • Remote and Hybrid Facilitation Workshops: During the pandemic, interested soared in learning how facilitate better virtual meetings. I have continued to teach facilitation and meeting design workshops and coaching for online and hybrid meetings
  • Training & Facilitation:  I have maintained an active schedule of conference keynotes, master classes, workshops and webinars on the topics of workplace wellbeing and digital transformation for nonprofits. I’ve also facilitated many nonprofit staff retreats and convening and provided training for other facilitators. The highlights including designing and facilitating for the Gates Foundation Greater Giving Virtual Summit and a training for the Communications Network. I also facilitated several peer learning groups, including Teaching Tuesdays for trainers with John Kenyon for the Parents Center staff, and a peer learning group on workplace wellbeing for the Resilience Initiative. All done remotely from home as I have yet to get back on airplane. I have continued my work as senior advisor to Lightful, a social media management tool for charities based in London.  I have been delivering virtual masterclasses and helping to develop their capacity building programs in digital skills.
  • Writing:  I’ve been writing Beth’s blog since 2004 and have been so thrilled with my new design for my blog which was long overdue. I was fortunate to work with Eve Simon and Cindy Leonard on this makeover. While I’m publishing less here during 2021, I continue to write articles and blog posts published elsewhere. Writing is a way to crystalize your ideas.

My Three Themes: 

This year I’ve selected the following three words to guide me into 2022.

Flexibility: The pandemic is teaching all of us about the benefits of flexible work – being able to work from anywhere whether in an office or from home. But flexibility is also about being adaptive and having the freedom to select your people, priorities, and purpose. With new virus variants popping up and the uncertainty we all face, it requires being reflective and the ability to pivot and adapt. I’ve taught leadership workshops on being adaptive, but I want to revisit this concept for 2022 and go deeper.

Flourishing: Flourishing is about positive emotions and optimal health, both physical and mental. Flourishing requires spaciousness in your work and life, and letting go of hyper busyness and embracing reflection for continuous improvement. Some have called this the slow work movement and it can help you flourish.

Joyful: If I were to continue with another “F” word, it would be fun or play. But I like joyful which means experiencing or causing happiness for yourself or others. Fun doesn’t mean goofing off or not working hard, but laughing and enjoyment that can be energizing. Adam Grant said it well, “Having fun isn’t an enemy of efficiency. It’s fuel for finding flow. Play isn’t a reward for finally making it through your to-do list. It *belongs* on your to-do list.” One tool that I’m exploring is “Action for Happiness,” that helps incorporate joy into your daily life.

When I look back on 2021, while the pandemic still creates a lot of uncertainty, I’ve discovered that using all the techniques and approaches I share in my trainings and books, I’m able to keep optimistic. What are your hopes and dreams for 2022?