Fundraiser wellbeing: Four ways to foster better wellbeing in your team

26 January 2021
LeadershipGovernance and Compliance
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A boat out to sea

David Cunningham, Chief Executive of Kids Operating Room and Board Member of the Fundraising Regulator, looks at how employees can foster better wellbeing within their fundraising teams.

As I write this, I realise that today is blue Monday. And I am writing this in the evening after a day largely filled with Zoom meetings. However, despite the overwhelming desire to embrace the spirit of the day and the fatigue on-line meetings somehow manage to produce, this is not going to be a depressing note!

First of all, I’m writing it in the evening because I have taken advantage of flexible working hours that allow me to help home-school our kids. Home-schooling, I should say, is not an experience any of us are enjoying (nor learning much from), but it is the way of the world just now. And I want to make it absolutely clear to everyone in our team that flexible working means just that – so I refuse every meeting for the first part of the morning and instead I teach.

I do this in part because I have to and in part because, as a chief executive, I want my team to know this is OK. It is not enough to say “we understand” or to suggest we have a flexible working policy, only for those with caring responsibilities to feel pressured into attending meetings anyway.

Since the pandemic began, this is just one of a number of things we have introduced to make life easier for everyone in the team. The list of new clubs, activities and policies goes on and on, and I’m sure your organisation has probably done many others too. All done through a genuine desire to keep a sense of team spirit, to foster better wellbeing, no matter when we might next sit down together.

Yet still we feel the pressure.

Yet still the realities of trying to fundraise during a pandemic loom heavy with no real certainty if this will be followed by economic boom or economic bust. The latter likely to cause unprecedented strain on our sector, but the former will bring its own challenges too.

In truth though, what will be will be. We have little capacity to change the global circumstance we find ourselves in nor to influence the fundraising environment in the years to come. What we can do, is get through this and then make sure we’re in the best place possible to overcome the challenges and make the most of the opportunities that tomorrow will doubtless bring.

Of course, that’s easier said than done.

For individual fundraisers, if you are anything like me, the juggling act needed to balance work and homelife just now probably has you exhausted. If that’s you too, I can only assure you that you are not alone, nor I suspect, are you doing anywhere near as badly as you may think.

Fundraising has some unique pressures (in what other job can you be responsible for generating vast sums of money yet still be frequently asked “and are you a volunteer?”) but your colleagues are going through this storm too (albeit I do recognise we are not all in the same boat). But regardless, be kind to yourself and to others, do what you can to de-stress but mostly give yourself a break. This will end, you’re doing just fine, keep going!

How to foster better wellbeing

As an employer, I feel that now more than ever is a time for clarity, honesty, calmness and courage to help foster better wellbeing for everyone in our teams.

Clarity – “this is where we are, this is where we want to try and get to, this is why.” For most of us, that’s enough. We can work with that. Nothing ludicrous. Let’s focus on what we do, why that’s important and let’s give our fundraisers space to do what they do best.

Honesty – things are tough for everyone and now is not the time for bravado nor for pretending that somehow you’re immune to the challenges of our time. When someone tells you they’re finding it tough: listen, empathise, help.

Calmness – the last thing any of us need is more pressure piled on by frantic leadership. Leaders can radiate confidence simply by being calm even under all of the pressures that come with the role. Everyone’s wellbeing will be improved as a result.

And Courage – now more than ever, we all need the courage to be kind. In my experience fundraisers are incredible, professional people but they are in the business of building relationships. They can do this infinitely better in a supportive and understanding working environment.

From my role as a Board Member of the Fundraising Regulator I believe that beyond the employer there is a role for the sector to step up and recognise that it is in all of our interests for the wellbeing of fundraisers to be considered, cared for and even nurtured. Larger organisations sharing best practise, smaller ones collaborating to deliver wellbeing activities – there are endless opportunities for us all to do more and, as a sector, we really ought to be a beacon of light in these dark times.

Fundraisers are incredible, passionate and dedicated people. They are the lifeblood of their organisations, the all-too-often unsung heroes of a charity’s impact and their (your) wellbeing is vitally important to our entire sector’s success. So, as I write this it may well be Blue Monday, but that means tomorrow will be better than today.

And maybe that’s the right place to end. Times are tough, but tomorrow will be better than today.


David Cunningham BSc (Hons), LLD, FRSPH, MCIOF
David Cunningham BSc (Hons), LLD, FRSPH, MCIOF
Chief Executive of the Kids Operating Room and Board Member of the Fundraising Regulator

Wellbeing and fundraising

Fundraising is a hugely exciting, rewarding, and skilled profession. But it is also one that can be demanding and pressured. We've produced this resource to help fundraisers, and managers, improve their wellbeing.
Read the resource
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