Paul Streets: Charity leaders must take care of their mental health

The double jeopardy of rising demand for services and falling budgets means the pressures can be long-term and chronic

Paul Streets
Paul Streets

Much has been written recently about how to cope with the acute demands of a crisis and its toll on our health and wellbeing. But as the useful Charity Comms advice says, the greater impact comes from the long-term pressure faced by charity leaders across the sector.

Although the guide is catered to comms in a digitally connected world, these long-term pressures are faced by professionals across the sector. This is perhaps particularly relevant for leaders of small charities, where the pressures seem chronic and relentless, as we know from our analysis of the hundreds of reports we receive. Many face the double jeopardy of rising and more complex demands and falling budgets.

I hear this every time I speak to charity leaders enrolled in the School for Social Entrepreneurs programme. Each year, we offer 40 charity leaders a place on an eight-day programme focused on leadership, governance and sustainability. Each year I speak about leadership to the cohort of charity leaders and hear about their own struggles and frustrations. Many of the same problems keep propping up, from isolation to funding.

For small charities in particular, the enduring worry of whether they can balance the books as they wait to see whether the current grant, funding or contract bid has been successful. Often the news arrives so near the end of the last funding that staff are placed "at risk" to give the required notice, which is distressing for those on the receiving and the "giving" end.

Many talk about the agony, pressure and sheer guilt that come from knowing that the demand at their door far exceeds their organisational capacity. Invariably it means they try to do more, working longer hours for less. I find myself sagely advising that they should say no, which is of course easy to say in the comfort of a group of peers, but harder to say when faced with real people.

And yet it’s true of all of us in the sector. None of us can meet that demand. That’s why all of us should consider the balance between time spent delivering and time spent trying to use that experience to advocate for others to act with us.

It’s little wonder then that we have had a growing need for support around health and wellbeing at work at the Lloyds Bank Foundation. This demand was highlighted recently by Mind with its excellent material on better health at work, fantastically segmented by sector, managerial or operational level, size of organisation and whether home, office or remotely based. Here is the section for office based chief executives of charities with 10-50 staff.

Alongside this we have just entered into a partnership with Bird, which focuses on building resilience in charities. As well as its coaching and training, it offers tips on when to spot the warning signs of pressures at work.

Some are self-explanatory: stockpiling; numbing; bouncing; "I’m fine". But the one that most intrigued me was "chandeliering". I gather it refers to "hitting the roof" at what seems to be the slightest thing, whereas in reality it’s often a result of systematically burying any negative feelings or stress to try to maintain control.

So if any of you are experiencing these symptoms and find yourself swinging from the chandeliers, help and advice is at hand to get you down.

Be good to yourself and those around you.

Paul Streets is chief executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales

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