I have recently taken on two new coaching clients. For reasons which will become apparent below, they want to remain anonymous, but both are happy for me to share their challenges and how I'm working to help them.
I have never met or worked with either of these individuals before. Both of them came to me from what they'd read about me and my championing of the wellbeing of those in the charity sector and of the incidence of stress and overload. It was important to them that they didn't know me - they wanted a completely impartial person to talk to and to help them out of a hole which, in their minds, was deepening daily.
Neither of them is a fundraiser. One is a man, the other a woman. They work at different ends of the country. In different parts of the charity / nfp sector. They have probably never met each other. They have completely different jobs.
But that is where the differences end
Both of them expressed feelings of 'shame' at their need to ask for help. They both felt they had failed in not being able to cope with their increasing workloads and challenges and were worried that their struggling would be perceived as weakness or failure by their seniors / board.
Both of them are completely amazing human beings and are incredibly successful and well-respected amongst their peers. They were both worried that if their situations were to worsen much more, that those reputations would be affected.
And yet, the situations they both found themselves in have been contributed to and compounded by the very seniors / board members whose opinions of weakness they were fearful of.
The woman is currently signed off work with stress, but is receiving almost daily contact from her employers or her team members. And the man is still in work because he can't take any time out, "that will be perceived as weakness"
Both of them head up teams within their organisation. One reports direct to the trustees, the other reports to a Chief Executive. The teams that they both lead are equally as amazing. But each of them is struggling to maintain their positive and motivating force within the team while feeling close to despondency. And neither of them can see a way in which to deliver the workload and the expectations placed on them without passing additional undue stress on to their already bust teams or without being able to replicate themselves and find an extra 5 days in the week.
I am devastated that our sector is not just not caring for its own people and their mental health, but it is actually contributing to or causing problems in their mental health.
I am really angry that these "overheads" are at the point of crisis and are struggling to see a way forward.
I am frustrated that our sector still seems to prioritise cost and perceived success over staff care and wellbeing.
And I'm gutted that there is a need them and others, to approach someone like me to help them try to identify the wood for the trees, to unblock the huge mental walls that have built up in their minds, to help them see just how amazing they still are, and to move forwards and feel better about themselves.
When I first considered the idea of offering coaching & mentoring, I genuinely did wonder whether there was actually any demand. And I had assumed that any demand there was would be for fundraising skills and experience. Actually I now find myself in a position where half of my clients are working with me on management, culture, leadership and personal challenges and development (the other half I'm working with on fundraising development)
I have always been very self aware. I received amazing training in management and leadership in the early part of my career, and looking after my staff, their wellbeing, their workload, their development and their success has always been really important to me. I have always lived by the rule that you surround yourself my the best people possible and support and nurture them to be the best they can be. You benefit from their success and help to drive that success. It's a win/win situation.
I've also learned to not use my research poll of one. Just because I would deal with a situation in a particular way does not mean that others would too, and it would be wrong of me as a manager and leader to not understand that there are as many different reactions and behaviours as there are situations to react to and behave around. Judgements around what is and isn't a 'normal' way to react or 'acceptable behaviour' in response to a particular incident or set of incidents is unhelpful at best
So how am I helping these two people? In two ways actually:
On an individual level-
I am listening. I am reminding them of who they are, of what they have achieved, of why they were employed in the first place, and of who they can be and what they can achieve again.
I am also helping them plan. We have written down everything that they have on their to-do lists, and have classified them as "yes now", "yes later", "yes but someone else", "for further discussion", "unlikely" and "no"
I am diagnosing. What has caused the overload? Over delivery that is not sustainable? Unrealistic expectation? Lack of resource? Lack of skills and expertise? Micro-management? Lack of a clear strategy and plan to judge the relevance and merit of tasks and projects against? Mission creep? Becoming funding led? Or other causes.
I am also encouraging them to find their voice. Neither has pushed back within their organisation at all. Neither has felt able to suggest that their workload isn't manageable. Neither has addressed the issues. They are just carrying them alone. We are working on constructive ways to address these and coming up with suggested plans of action to propose to their seniors, that we know are achievable and will move each organisation in the right direction AND which will enable both individuals to regain their mojo and their life.
I am also, most importantly, advising them to check in with their own GP, and to acknowledge to them that they are struggling and ensuring that their health is being monitored by someone 'proper'
On a sector level- I am gathering evidence of workload, overload, stress, burn-out, and break-down in the sector. I am looking at the causes of these (where identifiable) and I am collecting examples of best practice from within the charity / nfp sector and the wider business world, in staff care, in wellbeing and in support, development and the reaching of potential in people and in the organisations they currently share their expertise in.
I don't have any formal coaching or mentoring qualifications. And I do not purport to have.
I don't have all the answers. And I do not purport to have.
I don't have a track record of 'fixing' or trouble-shooting within charities. And I do not purport to have
But I do have lived experience of overload, of working to unrealistic expectations, of feeling like I'm crap at my own job, and at needing help to remember that is simply not the case. And of putting it right.
And I do have experience of putting up a fight, of standing up for myself and for those around me, and of working to bring about the change I want and need to see.
I am just one voice, But one voice can still be heard.
Like every job I've ever had, taken to the nth degree, my utopian hope is to work myself into obsolescence.
As a fundraiser, if I could have had one wish, it would be for the charities I have worked with and for to not need fundraisers - either because the cause they were fighting would be eradicated or won or because their services would be recognised for their true value and worth and would be funded properly and adequately by either the state or the private sector.
As a coach, my wish is that alongside supporting and helping individuals, my research and my own learning will help me to: - champion the voice of the sector worker; to help affect change in the way charities and NFPs are run and led; to encourage charities to improve organisational culture; and for individuals within the sector to be treated fairly and managed well.
I AM just one voice, But one voice can still be heard
And so are you, and so can yours. You just need to find it and find the strength to use it!
"You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
Winnie the Pooh
If you'd like to know more about the research I'm planning on wellbeing and retention in the sector, please come and join my facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/CharityWell/