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Inspiration for the Rollercoaster of Social Change

By Nell Edgington

There is a blog I read that doesn’t fit with any of the others on my favorites list. A Smart Bear written by Jason Cohen, founder of Smart Bear Software, which (I’ll be honest) I know nothing about, is really refreshing and eye-opening. The blog is supposed to be about startup software marketing, but I read it because it’s really about the crazy, rollercoaster, confidence-busting, exhilarating world of entrepreneurship. And as a social entrepreneur myself and a supporter of social entrepreneurs, I find his posts thought-provoking, inspiring and encouraging in a way I wouldn’t imagine a tech blog would be.

Today’s post, Fighting Micro-Burn Out, by guest blogger Noah Kagan of, a daily deals site for web entrepreneurs, was truly inspiring. Although Noah is writing about traditional entrepreneurs, his arguments about entrepreneurs can easily be extended to nonprofit and for-profit social entrepreneurs. He makes you realize that in working for social change it is natural to suffer moments of immovable depression. And instead of hiding that fact, the task is to push through it, whether by distraction, support, release or tiny bites.

Noah describes the particular, immediate form of depression that all entrepreneurs regularly face:

I can barely push myself to work, I have zero interest in doing anything AppSumo related, my teammates are chatting in our group chat and I want to be doing anything but this…Why was I depressed? This depression has happened before…Unmotivated to do anything in your business. It may be called “burn-out” but burn-out is solved with time, relaxation, hiring and pacing yourself. This was different — an immediate, uncontrollable feeling. What surprised me was I shared this with a close friend of how occasionally I felt depressed and he was like, ME TOO. In fact the more entrepreneurs I talk to the more I’ve found that this is not just common but practically required.

And he gives some great steps to take when that depression hits.

But this “startup depression” is not just common to traditional for-profit entrepreneurs. Certainly social entrepreneurs who are creating a new solution to an intractable social problem face this startup depression all the time when they hit the normal roadblocks on the way to changing a broken system.

And I would argue that nonprofit leaders can also fall victim to this startup depression, even if they have been running a “startup” for years, or even decades. Nonprofits often exist in a prolonged state of “startup” because their work is hopelessly undercapitalized, and they are constantly having to scrape together resources to create new value (the definition of an entrepreneur). Their rollercoaster ride happens when they receive a check from a new funder (exhilaration) followed by news that a program site has to shut down because of an ending city contract (depression).

Social change is really hard work. It may even be harder than building a business, because added to the normal stresses of an entrepreneurial venture, you also are saving or changing lives, institutions, cities, systems, countries. You have a financial bottomline and your vision is at stake, but you also have people’s futures in your hands. So when you get depressed, sick of it, worn out and just done, take a break and read Noah’s advice for getting through it.

Photo Credit: schrislloyd

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

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