Sabbatical Award


The O2 Sabbatical Award honors dedicated nonprofit executive directors in San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties with an essential three-month break for rest and renewal.

The San Francisco Bay Area’s exceptional nonprofit organizations enrich their communities and advance innovative solutions to our toughest challenges. This critical work comes at a price. Rising community needs, inadequate budgets, and understaffed teams lead to overwhelming demands and unsustainable stress for even the most resilient organizations and leaders. Despite a passion for impact, nonprofit executives risk burnout and turnover, often with no succession plan in place.

To help address these challenges, the O2 Sabbatical Award recharges executive directors and empowers leadership throughout an organization. The result is stronger and more resilient teams better prepared to partner with their communities to create positive change.

The O2 Sabbatical Award Includes:

  • $50,000 toward the cost of the executive director’s three-month sabbatical
  • $15,000 in flexible funding to support staff professional development, as well as stipends for the interim leadership team in recognition of the additional responsibilities assumed in the executive director’s absence 
  • 25 hours of coaching to help organizations prepare for the sabbatical, advise interim leadership teams during the executive director’s leave, provide support with re-entry, and achieve organizational development goals (e.g., greater shared leadership, succession planning)
  • Participation in the O2 Peer Network, including annual gatherings and shared learning opportunities. O2 alumni also mentor new awardees and serve on the O2 Selection Committee

The Value of a Sabbatical

O2 alumni consistently report that their sabbatical was a life-changing personal experience and transformational for the nonprofits they lead. The benefits of a sabbatical include:

Revitalizing Executive Directors

“My commitment to self-care and taking necessary breaks came as a direct result of the sabbatical. It also gave me an opportunity to model a healthy work-life balance for the team, and this commitment continues today. Wellness and nonprofit work must go together.”

– Regina Jackson as President & CEO of East Oakland Youth Development Center, 2015 O2 Awardee

The stresses and demands of nonprofit leadership can take a toll on even the most passionate and motivated executive director. The resulting intellectual, creative, emotional, and physical burnout poses a risk to the wellbeing of these individuals, the organizations they lead, and the Bay Area nonprofit sector at-large. Sabbaticals offer nonprofit executives the opportunity to refuel and reconnect with their passion, creating a perspective shift away from the constant juggle of management and stress toward more expansive thinking around sustainability or growth.

Strengthening leadership capacity throughout the organization

“The sabbatical helped us understand what it takes to position leaders to grow, and to take more seriously the need for a boss to ‘step back’ and make space for emerging leaders. It created an ongoing sense of shared leadership.”

– Emily Arnold-Fernández, President & CEO of Asylum Access, 2017 O2 Awardee

Sabbaticals provide senior staff with an unparalleled opportunity to take on new responsibilities and learn new skills in the executive director’s absence, creating more confident and cohesive teams. Many organizations use sabbaticals as an opportunity to explore shared leadership models, which can be a more sustainable and equitable path to achieving organizational goals.

The sabbatical can also be a powerful tool for succession planning by serving as a dry run for eventual transitions. In fact, to date, five executive directors in the O2 network have been succeeded by individuals who led in their absence during sabbatical.

Growing a mutually supportive alumni network

“What a great combination of camaraderie, compassion, and commonalities shared with other executive directors. I have really enjoyed the retreat learning and open, honest dialogue I don’t get to experience with other networks. I’ve also been so inspired by this group of peers and feel honored to spend time with them.”

– Stuart Cohen as Executive Director of TransForm, 2015 O2 Awardee

O2 awardees become members of the O2 Peer Network along with program alumni. This diverse group of Bay Area nonprofit leaders collectively invest in each other and strengthen the sector through dialogue, collaboration, and mutual support. O2 hosts annual retreats for the O2 Peer Network, and alumni play a key role in the award program by serving on the selection committee and mentoring new awardees.

"I am ever so grateful for the gift of time to unplug from work. After 90 days, I came back ready and energized for the next round. I found my second wind."