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Don’t expect ‘more’ anything this year


4 August 2021 at 4:36 pm
Julia Keady
Julia Keady reflects on the social sector’s tendency to strive for “more” and how this plays out when there is widespread burnout.


Julia Keady | 4 August 2021 at 4:36 pm


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Don’t expect ‘more’ anything this year
4 August 2021 at 4:36 pm

Julia Keady reflects on the social sector’s tendency to strive for “more” and how this plays out when there is widespread burnout.

While preparing to speak about NFPs and innovation for a recent conference, it dawned on me just how prolific the mindset and language of “more” is in our sector: “do more, with less”, “find more donors”, “be more innovative”… 

This little “aha” moment meant we started the conference keynote by acknowledging just how innovative our sector is, and how agile and responsive we have always been, and continue to be. We encouraged the audience – chartered accountants working on NFP boards or with NFP clients – to nurture and support an innovation mindset and practice, and to be leaders themselves by watching out for this damaging “more” factor.

We also talked about the importance of innovation decisions being framed and filtered through a “wellbeing-first” decision making approach. Primarily because many social sector organisations are feeling more burnt out than ever. 

We are one of few sectors that didn’t “close shop” last year, and burnout continues to be a major issue for 2021.  

While cafes, cinemas, airlines, hairdressers and pubs were closing up last year (and again this year), our sector did not have this choice. Organisations had to, and continue to, work harder than ever before, having to let staff and volunteers go despite the increased demand, with no form of rest or recovery. 

We first saw this validated in the September 2020 survey for the RESET 2020 National Impact + Need Research Study which included alarming statistics such as 45 per cent of the sector felt stressed or anxious always or often, 39 per cent felt their workload was unachievable always or often, and 40 per cent were not taking care of themselves always or often.

2021 has not brought much respite with it, with rolling uncertainty, lockdowns, border closures and wide-scale fatigue. This was shown in a poll that we ran at the accountants’ conference where we put the question into the mix on innovation. We asked: “What was holding back their organisation from being a more innovative NFP?” We felt almost contradictory posing the question this way, but were intrigued to see what would rate. 

The exhaustion result was immediate. We were not surprised, and knew we needed to share these insights wider:

  • 35 per cent agreed they were finding everyone was exhausted. 
  • 29 per cent said they didn’t actually consider themselves fairly innovative.
  • 20 per cent said they didn’t have the skills in-house.
  • 20 per cent said their organisations didn’t have an innovation mindset.
  • 18 per cent said they were still in survival mode post-COVID.
  • 12 per cent said they didn’t have a shared vision internally.

It felt odd to be preparing to speak about being innovative, let alone “more” innovative, when there is a very thick cloud of tiredness in and around the sector at present. But it was also strangely re-assuring. The conference validated the need for us to keep wellbeing at the core of every decision being made for ourselves and for our organisations right now – a “wellbeing governance” mindset.

The irony being that those who know me, know I’m partial to a few new ideas here and there. We often preach or teach what we need to learn ourselves. With this reminder has come an opportunity to filter ideas and opportunities and make better decisions with the wellbeing of myself and others at the fore.

Sadly, many of us are seeing the flow-on impacts of burnout, with not only individual and organisational performance being impacted, but also workplace relationships and culture being increasingly challenged by irregular behaviours.

I’ll be looking at these aspects next week with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission as part of its webinar series. A team of specialists will be sharing perspectives and practical advice on ‘The Pandemic: Its Impact on People, and What We Can Do’. I hope to see you there.


Julia Keady  |  @ProBonoNews

Julia Keady is the CEO and founder of The Xfactor Collective social impact community which has a mission to improve wellbeing of social changemakers by making it easier to share/access support and advice.

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