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Why fundraising can create a perfect storm for mental health issues

26 February 2021 at 5:08 pm
Luke Michael
Fundraising leaders say COVID-19 has put mental health in the spotlight 

Luke Michael | 26 February 2021 at 5:08 pm


Why fundraising can create a perfect storm for mental health issues
26 February 2021 at 5:08 pm

Fundraising leaders say COVID-19 has put mental health in the spotlight 

Fundraising organisations need to create a strong culture of acceptance and openness to ensure people with mental illness can be properly supported in the workplace, sector leaders say.               

The Fundraising Institute Australia (FIA) Conference 2021 featured a session examining the challenges people living with mental health concerns face in the high-pressure world of fundraising.

One of the speakers involved was the head of fundraising and philanthropy at Brotherhood of St Laurence, Karen McComiskey, who shared her personal mental health challenges as a person living with Schizoaffective Disorder.

Speaking to Pro Bono News after the session, McComiskey said fundraising was a highly demanding and stressful job with a high turnover rate.

She said there was often pressure coming from all directions, which meant fundraising was arguably the hardest role in an entire not-for-profit organisation. 

“When you work for a charity that is relying on fundraising income, there’s pressure around what happens to our unfunded programs and our beneficiaries if we don’t reach our targets,” McComiskey said.  

“This leads to a perfect storm where people who may already be living with mental health concerns or who may be biologically predisposed to experience symptoms of mental illness are going to struggle in that environment.”

Given that around one in five Australians experience some form of mental illness, McComiskey said it was vital that fundraising organisations had a strong culture in place to support their employees. 

“The culture of the organisation around acceptance and openness of mental health is absolutely crucial. I cannot underestimate how important it is,” McComiskey said.

Disclosing mental illness to your employer was also discussed during the session.

McComiskey said since it was hard to know the culture of an organisation before joining it, her advice was to only disclose your mental health concerns if you personally felt safe doing so. 

“Only you know if you can psychologically trust the people around you, whether that be your co-workers or your managers,” she said. 

“Only you can be the best judge of that and it’s important to trust your gut, because a lot of times your intuition is correct.”

McComiskey said she tried to normalise mental health in the workplace by being open with her colleagues and casually dropping it into everyday conversation.  

For example, if someone asked her why she was leaving work early, she could say “yeah I have an appointment with my psychiatrist”.

She said she found that was the best way to create a comfortable environment.

“People may then think, ‘oh, well if my manager is going to a psychiatrist, surely they’re not going to be judgmental if I need to go see someone [for my mental health]’,” she said. 

“People tend to be much more open if I share with them.” 

The COVID-19 crisis has had a profound impact on charities, with research showing that burnout and fatigue among social sector workers has steadily risen during the pandemic.

Research in August also found that more than a quarter of sector workers believed that staff and volunteer mental health and wellbeing was being impacted by the crisis. 

McComiskey said COVID-19 had undoubtedly put staff mental health into the spotlight for the sector, which was extremely necessary given more people than ever were likely to be struggling.   

“COVID has definitely had an impact on bringing this to the forefront. It’s also forced organisations to take mental health concerns seriously, particularly when everyone is impacted all at once,” she said. 

“This focus has been invaluable. And I really hope that if we do enter into a COVID normal period, that we don’t lose that.”  

If this article has raised any issues for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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