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the long term benefits of a sabbatical
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash. Man crouching to touch lake, creating a ripple effect, with trees and mountain in background.

September 2023 will mark my 20th year in leadership at CCCC, and I am amazed at how my passion and vision for the mission of CCCC continue to grow year after year. It has been a joy to serve, alongside the CCCC team, our 3,200+ members across Canada.

To prepare for my 21st year, I am taking a three-month sabbatical starting in a few weeks. I first took a sabbatical in 2011, which involved two research projects that included visits to ministries in nine countries. You can read about my journey in a series of posts I wrote in real time. It was a busy and exciting adventure! This sabbatical will be very different, as I will simply be taking time away from work to rest and rejuvenate.

For those with questions about sabbaticals, I wrote a post in 2010 that gave the biblical basis for a sabbatical, the different purposes of a sabbatical, how long a sabbatical typically is, potential problems with a sabbatical, and the benefits the organization can expect from a sabbatical.

Lasting Effects of My Sabbatical

Having the gift of a second sabbatical made me think about my first sabbatical and its continuing benefits for CCCC. My reflections from that sabbatical formed the foundational elements of our current strategy and brand, as well as The Green and the Learning Table. As I envisioned a future for CCCC as a resource for building thriving ministry organizations, I realized we needed to add significant new capacity and new capabilities. Since my first sabbatical, CCCC has grown from 14 staff members to 22, and our workplace culture has been dramatically transformed. I didn’t get to this point by myself, of course—I have a wonderful team working with me to make all these dreams come to fruition. But the sabbatical was the catalyst that solidified my dreams and set in motion virtually everything that has happened since.

The Board’s Interest in Giving Sabbaticals

My first sabbatical is still producing fruit 12 years later. Granted, that’s just one person’s experience. Boards that are considering sabbaticals for their ministry leader might want to know if long-term benefits can generally be expected and might wonder if it matters what the leader does while on sabbatical to achieve those benefits. These questions are answered in a research study that examined the benefits of sabbaticals over a 20-year timeframe.

What the Research Says

As I reported back in 2010, a study by the Durfee Foundation found that the benefits of a sabbatical flow well beyond the individuals who take the sabbaticals. The Durfee Foundation has funded sabbaticals for nonprofits in Los Angeles since 1997 and, after 20 years of supporting sabbaticals, they did another study. Their conclusion is that sabbaticals of three or four months have very long-lasting effects on the leaders, their boards and staff, and the organization itself.

Sabbaticals are so much more than a break for worthy nonprofit leaders. They not only rejuvenate leaders—but retain them as well. More often than not, organizational dynamics and culture shift as a result of the absence of a leader—elevating the capacity of second tier leadership, shifting the leader’s perspective from daily management to distributed leadership, allowing for more generative thinking and activity, and creating increased work-life balance for all.

What is particularly special about offering and supporting a three-month sabbatical for nonprofit leaders is that it can be a lever for whole systems change. Like the proverbial pebble thrown in the pond, sabbaticals quickly and organically create lasting change at the personal (attitude/perspective), structural (job descriptions changed, teams restructured), and system (leadership, mission/impact) levels.

Very few capacity building interventions provide as much bang for the buck as the simple act of offering a sabbatical. Even more rare is that the lessons learned are organic and driven from within as each leader, staff and board member experiences the change first-hand, and changes as a result.

From Creative Disruption to Systems Change: A 20-Year Retrospective on the Durfee Foundation Sabbatical Program

Does It Matter How the Sabbatical Is Spent?

The Durfee Foundation funds sabbaticals and allows the leaders to travel, reflect, or otherwise renew in whatever manner they propose. Their research conclusions apply to sabbaticals regardless of what the individual people did during their sabbatical. So no, it doesn’t really matter what the leader does. Just being away from work is what results in the many benefits of a sabbatical.

Key Point: A sabbatical is not just about the leader. The organization, board, and staff all benefit from the leader’s break from work.

Series Navigation<< My Wife, My COO, and a Director: Perspectives on My Sabbatical

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