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Fundraising is good for your mental health – but how does that work in a global pandemic?

Louise Parkes, CEO of the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, writes about the importance of workplace wellbeing for fundraisers.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

Nearly two years ago, just as I started in my first CEO role at Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, I did the closing speech at the Third Sector conference, talking about my pride in fundraising as a profession and how we needed to diversify. I also talked about how I had recently discovered “five-a-day for your mental health” and how relevant it was to fundraising – I even had a slide that said fundraising was good for your mental health!

Fundraising provides these opportunities for our fantastic volunteers, donors and supporters, we provide the chance to connect and get involved with beneficiaries and causes that people feel passionate about, sometimes in person but also through social media and great stewardship. Fundraising can build a community of like-mined individuals and connect them through a common cause, giving them the opportunity to make a profound and lasting difference.

The pandemic has robbed many fundraisers of their opportunity to do the job they love, in the way they know works best and I see the impact that this is having in my organisation. As ever, the fundraising profession and the team has been brilliant at adapting and operating in a virtual world, but I think it is fair to say with mixed outcomes. The amount of money raised is often significantly reduced and it is so much harder to get the sense of a connected community.

There is an overwhelming mix of emotions that people are feeling and it affects every person differently, but we know that many of our colleagues and fundraisers are feeling burnt out. Supporting the wellbeing of our staff is absolutely crucial, both on a personal level but also so they can continue to deliver our purpose.

As CEOs, it is important that we lead by example and create a positive and healthy working environment – even more challenging when that environment is our own home.  As I heard recently: “We are not working from home, but we are living at work”. In this disconnected and virtual world, it is even more vital for our mental health that we stay connected. Our brilliant people team at GOSH Charity has set up a chat mate scheme, you get allocated a different person each week to catch up with and have a natter – I really miss the informal interactions around the office and this is a great replacement.

We all know that being physically actively is good for our mental health, as part of our well-being week we set up a team challenge that encourages walking and exercise – as well as other new activities such a cooking, reading and mindfulness. It is so important that we reach out to people and not just those we normally interact with. Motivation is hard fought for and I know there are times when I have personally felt as if I have lost my mojo, tapping into my network (particularly of other CEOs) for support has kept me sane and lifted my spirits when I have found things tough.

Most of all I think we have all had to dig deep and find a new level of resilience.  I have no doubt that our organisations and fundraisers will bounce back and that our donors and supporters will be desperate to help, engage and get more involved again when circumstances allow. We must continue to look after ourselves, our teams and be kind to one another. The nights are getting lighter, spring is around the corner, we have a lot to be grateful for and I have no doubt that there are new, different and exciting opportunities on the horizon.

  • The Chartered Institute of Fundraising has published a series of resources focused on the wellbeing of fundraising professionals. Find out more.
  • ACEVO and Mental Health First Aid England researched workplace wellbeing for CEOs. Read the final report here.
Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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