'The groups enabled me to have a safe space and support system’

01 March 2021
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Three people working together and supporting one another

Bronwyn O’Riordan is Chair of Chairs for the Scottish special interest groups and Co-Chair of the Scottish Community Group. She looks in this blog at what special interest groups have been doing in terms of supporting fundraisers during the pandemic, and the importance of personal development.

I find it hard to believe that we’re entering a new financial year, what happened to 2020-21? Like many fundraisers, my experience of the pandemic has been a rough ride on the ‘Coronacoaster’ and I’ve relied heavily on the support of my peers. I’d like to share with you how engaging with the Chartered Institute of Fundraising has really benefited me, and I hope I can demonstrate how it could be of use to you.

My 2020 started with my team being furloughed and me trying to juggle their jobs and my own, whilst simultaneously trying to keep our programme afloat and navigating the challenges of lockdown. Like so many people, I was also juggling home schooling, being a carer and a volunteer. When asked why I continued to invest so much time into my voluntary roles, my answer, in truth, was that they were the escapism that I needed from how overwhelming aspects of my day job and home life had become.

By summer I was taking part in a ‘consultation’ process, it was an upsetting time and myself and the entirety of my team were made redundant – I couldn’t believe it, we had been doing so well, it felt incredibly hard to swallow. However, many of our special interest groups had really taken it upon themselves to provide the support that was needed, our groups were running monthly sessions, including informal peer support and coffee breaks. It quickly became apparent just how many people were in the same boat, and it enabled me to have a safe space and support system. Those still working were overwhelmed with workload, and those furloughed were struggling to find any sense of security or purpose.

However, it was inspiring to see so many people engaging at sessions, everyone was sharing resources for CV building, job hunting, links to training, voicing concerns, tips on wellbeing, recipes for banana bread or what was trending on Netflix. With the world moving to a digital platform, our audiences had grown, we had more attendees than ever and we were able to reach fundraisers in rural areas and from smaller organisations. The speaker sessions kept people motivated, it was fantastic to hear how charities were adapting and how resilient the profession can be. It gave hope, and I felt part of a cheering squad whenever someone shared that they were returning to work.

Scottish special interest groups have historically aimed to run four events a year and a social, they have always been a great way to learn about developments in your area of expertise, pick up tips and do some networking. I was incredibly proud of our groups over the pandemic, as we actually put on sessions every month and we supported wider fundraising conferences and events. Our volunteers put in so much time for planning and running of them, tailoring them to the needs and requests of our audiences, and providing fundraisers with regular communications.

By Autumn 2020, I had been made redundant and accepted a new role at a small Scottish charity. The networks and learning made by attending group events have proved invaluable to me when having to move out of my comfort zone in leadership and learn lots of new hands on processes and operational insights for my new role. I look forward to sessions and thinking about what content could be relevant to my own personal development, the support of my organisation or my new colleagues. I also thoroughly enjoy seeing the faces of the fundraisers as they have been returning from furlough or finding new roles. These groups have provided a real sense of community spirit and peer support – I can’t recommend them enough. Roll on the socials, and I hope to see you there!

Bronwyn O’Riordan
Bronwyn O’Riordan
Bronwyn O’Riordan is Chair of Chairs for the Scottish special interest groups and Co-Chair of the Scottish Community Group.
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