How the Leadership Longevity Fellowship Encouraged Jackie McKinney to Beat Burnout

Aug 03, 2023
Jackie McKinney standing with her hands on her side, posing in front of lush green landscape.
Jackie McKinney at the LLF retreat. Photo by New Sector Alliance.

Pursuing professional development opportunities goes hand in hand when trying to advance in any career. Whether it’s attending training, seminars, or continuing education courses, there are many options, regardless of whether you are a doctor, teacher, or researcher. However, the intensity of a workweek can catch up to us, even if we love our jobs. How can someone protect their mental health while simultaneously advancing their professional goals? We interviewed Jackie McKinney to discuss her experience in New Sector Alliance’s Leadership Longevity Fellowship (LLF) and how it helped her withstand the burnout she was beginning to face. LLF takes on a cohort of mission-driven leaders in various vocations across the social sector and offers professional development and networking. It also provides funded retreats focusing on self-care, health, and wellness and a supportive community to recharge and refresh their fellows.

Tell us about your background. What was your professional and academic journey prior to applying for the Leadership Longevity Fellowship?

I’ve been fortunate to be able to align my career path to the issue areas I am most passionate about: youth development and nonprofit capacity building within communities of color. I completed undergrad during a recession unsure of my next steps, but I knew I wanted to work with young people based on my experiences working in summer camps and tutoring elementary schoolers during college. I started working at an afterschool program in Charlotte, NC for a couple of years and then moved to Maryland, my home state, to become a community organizer focusing on community development in DC through AmeriCorps VISTA. As a Community Organizer, I was able to dive deeper into the connections between community and youth development and worked across sectors to develop sustainable, ongoing, resident-led programs and initiatives. After my year of AmeriCorps VISTA, I worked as a Director supervising staff, writing curriculum, and managing partnerships for elementary and middle- afterschool and summer campsites in DC. It was at this point I realized I wanted to continue my leadership trajectory in the nonprofit sector and decided to consider graduate school.

I applied to the National Urban Fellows (NUF) program which is a full-time, 14-month, accelerated MPA (Master of Public Administration) program for women and leaders of color who want to work for mission-driven organizations and institutions. During my cohort year, NUF partnered with Baruch College in New York City. As such, I was placed with an organization in NYC that advocated and lobbied for policies and legislation that positively impacted children, youth, and families on a city, state, and federal level like increased funding for afterschool programs and the Summer Youth Employment Program. This opportunity helped me to develop a holistic understanding of how policies and budgets impact youth-serving organizations on a macro level. After completing my MPA at Baruch, I started working for an education nonprofit in New York that focuses on improving student outcomes by providing professional development, coaching, and data management to principals and school staff members. In my current role at the organization, I help schools build their capacities for managing partnerships, facilitate the organization’s student advisory network and leverage partnerships between schools and external companies and organizations.

The New Sector Alliance’s Leadership Longevity Fellowship offers leadership development to equip emerging leaders with tools to address issues in today’s society. What led you to apply and how did the fellowship benefit you in your area of expertise?

The New Sector Alliance Leadership Longevity Fellowship (LLF) brings together people in a variety of stages of their leadership journeys within mission-driven organizations and institutions. We have fellows who are Managers, Directors, and Executive Directors and work for nonprofits, community-based organizations, government agencies, foundations, etc. I applied to LLF because I was experiencing burnout. For the past 10 years, I was working towards building the skills that would make me an attractive candidate for an Executive Director position in a youth-serving organization. This meant that in addition to my full-time job, I was also volunteering on nonprofit boards, planning fundraising events, building programs, attending professional development series, and attending graduate school. This was also on top of navigating working in the education sector during the pandemic. Needless to say, I was exhausted! I also realized that my previous schedule was unsustainable and the greatest skill that I could build for myself, as a leader, was a process for centering self-care, rest, and reflection.

As an LLF fellow, I’m surrounded by 14 fellows and the New Sector Alliance staff who are also committed to mission-driven work and are open, vulnerable, insightful, reflective, and knowledgeable. We are able to learn from and build off the expertise of each other to facilitate our own personal and professional growth. Through the fellowship, we are able to first reflect on our own leadership styles and journeys and discuss the ways in which we model self-care and build our own “toolkits” to prevent or come back from burnout. We use the PERMA (Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment) model- the 5 core elements of happiness and self-care- as a framework to ground our reflection and activities. I’ve been able to bring back some of the exercises to my colleagues in order to promote reflection and stress reduction which has prompted conversations around work-life balance and intentionally creating opportunities for happiness.

Jackie, top right, in a group picture of the fellows and New Sector Alliance Staff at the welcome retreat in Arizona.
Jackie, top right, in a group picture of the fellows and New Sector Alliance Staff at the LLF welcome retreat in Arizona.

What does a typical week in the life of a New Sector Alliance Leadership Longevity Fellow look like? How did this opportunity allow you to advance your career and expand your professional network? 

The great part about this fellowship is that I can complete this fellowship while working my current job. The first half is completely focused on self-reflection. We have 2 virtual meetings a month and in between those meetings there may be a reading or exercise to complete around a theme. We had an in-person retreat a month into the fellowship and will have a close-out retreat at the end. Our welcome retreat was on a picturesque ranch in Arizona that looked like a computer screensaver background with mountains and perfect blue skies. The first night was so quiet compared to New York that I played my audiobook to fall asleep. I left the retreat feeling energized and well-rested! In between meetings, I like to try out exercises and activities on myself or with the people I work with which includes reflection and the intentional planning of activities that activate movement, joy, curiosity, and gratitude.

The second half of the fellowship focuses on systemic change and facilitating change in others. As a fellow, we have committed to completing a project to share our learnings with a group of people/community of our choice. During this time, we discuss what it would look like to lead and model self-care practices for our colleagues and staff. There is time within the meetings to plan or get feedback on our project ideas. Also, you can opt-in to receiving coaching from the New Sector Alliance staff during the program.

This opportunity has not only expanded my network to meet professionals from all over the country working in different mission-driven organizations but also built my skills in becoming a more mindful leader who is able to assert boundaries and recognize the need for rest and restoration, unapologetically. I’ve been able to learn about trends within the sector that organizations are taking to center self-care and wellness, like sabbaticals, 4-day work weeks, birthdays off, etc. It is very common for individuals who work in mission-driven organizations to, at some point, experience burnout or develop an unhealthy work-life balance. For many of us, we are deeply connected to the cause and this drives us to do more than what our bodies are capable of doing. Being a part of this fellowship has allowed me the space and opportunity to slow down, reflect, and build a toolkit that will ensure my success and longevity as a leader within this sector. I am excited to continue to practice these skills not only for myself but to make systemic changes in the places where I lead in order to encourage more mission-driven professionals to center healthy self-care practices in whatever ways work for them.

What advice would you give others who want to apply to this fellowship?

It felt serendipitous to find this fellowship. I was in a place and space of wanting to better understand myself as a leader and find the energy to continue toward my goal. I would encourage others who want to apply to truly reflect on their “why” of wanting to be a part of this fellowship community and then approach the application and interview with openness, honesty, and authenticity. You don’t have to have all the answers but at least know your “why!”

Interested in applying to this fellowship? Bookmark the New Sector Alliance Leadership Longevity Fellowship to your ProFellow account.

Jackie McKinney is a community-oriented leader with over 15 years of experience Head shot photo of Jackie wearing a blue and white patterned blouse working with mission-driven institutions to analyze systems and structures in order to advocate for and develop equitable programming for students, youth, and families. She is currently a Partnership Manager at New Visions for Public Schools where she creates and implements the organization’s Student Advisory Network as well as coaches school staff in sustainable partnership development and management practices. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Baruch College through the National Urban Fellows program and a B.A. in Communications from Elon University.

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