Find support around The Community Well

Fri, 18 Aug 2023

Natural disasters, the pandemic and cost of living pressures have put unprecedented stress on social sector organisations. The Benefolk Foundation (formerly The Xfactor Collective) has launched a flagship resource hub to provide tailored tools to support staff and volunteers’ mental health and wellbeing. Founder and Executive Director Julia Keady describes how The Community Well aims to help prevent and address changemaker burnout.

1.    What is The Community Well and how does it work?

The Community Well is an online resource hub that will help strengthen the mental health and wellbeing of the social sector workforce. Stage 1 of the project provides 80+ high-quality resources to support both organisational and structural level, best-practice change and to shift some causes of the sector’s wellbeing deficit.

It includes an Organisational Health Check diagnostic tool that provides a report and links organisations to the most relevant resources, and a Workplace Wellbeing Strategy toolkit that helps organisations create a “plan on a page”.

The Community Well is for leaders of not for-profits (NFPs), charities and social enterprises, and is also freely available for staff and volunteers, as well as peak bodies, grantmakers, member organisations and intermediaries who can help by funding resilience and wellbeing and using a Wellbeing Lens.

2.    What need is it addressing? Why are those working in the social sector particularly vulnerable to mental health and wellbeing pressures?

It addresses the need to support the good mental health of those who work and volunteer in our sector. More than 40% of 340 respondents in our RESET 2020 National Impact + Need Study (funded by Equity Trustees), told us they feel “stressed, anxious, frustrated, cynical, overwhelmed or exhausted often or always”. We know there is a negative trending trajectory here, with 97% of community sector staff saying their main service cannot always meet demand (ACOSS 2022 Demand Snapshot).

RESET 2020 also told us that 34% of organisation leaders did not know where to find resources and support in this area, so The Community Well addresses that need.

Yet, we also know this issue is pre-existing to the pandemic and rolling disasters, with 80% of the above 340 survey respondents affirming this.  People who work in the social sector face a number of constraints, such as funding uncertainty often attributed to the prevalence of single-year project funding.

Also, the work can be confronting, with exposure to traumatic events and personal experiences, especially those who might be “accidental responders” on the frontline. If the people who show up to work every day are healthy and well, then it follows that our immediate impact and future resilience will be stronger.

A well workforce also mitigates risk for communities, for government, for philanthropic funders. It is in no-one’s interests to have our sector’s workforce – paid or volunteer – burning out.

NFPs are the lifeblood of local communities and we know that 50% have no paid staff. The “wellbeing deficit” has become a “norm” in our sector, especially for small-to-medium organisations, which is why The Community Well is needed.

3.    Rolling natural disasters on top of the pandemic, and now the escalating costs of living, are placing even greater pressure on the social sector. How can we balance that demanding level of commitment from a workforce that is passionate about meeting it – against the risks to personal wellbeing?

We are so lucky to attract such an incredible workforce – people who are often willing to sacrifice salary and security to work on issues aligned with their values. And we say, with some effort we can turn things around so that we keep them!

That’s why we are working at both the organisational and structural level to enhance wellbeing. If both levers are pulled, we will have a bigger chance of creating long-term change. Our thanks go to Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, who saw the need and backed us for Stage 1 of The Community Well.

The overall design is intentionally simple, as we know people are time-poor. The resources in the six pillars on The Community Well allow busy people to dip in and out as needed, or even better, take the Organisational Health Check to get their bespoke report that suggests what they might prioritise. In this way, it is designed to find that balance between fulfilling demanding commitments, and addressing workplace and personal wellbeing.

Pillars include preventing harm by getting policies, legal obligations and risk management in place, and protecting the workforce with leadership and governance practices, including The Wellbeing Governance Guide for Boards and Leaders, which is available to all. We also have resources to support workplaces to educate their people and enhance wellbeing, and to manage crisis and recovery situations. Mental health is now a workplace regulation too – it’s a requirement for all leaders.                                    

4.    The Benefolk Foundation’s mission is to eradicate changemaker burnout. What lies between organisations thriving rather than surviving?

We’ll achieve our mission by both practicing what we preach, innovating and advocating for better ways of working, and advocating for the sector. We see the approach as two-pronged and they should meet in the middle:

  • Outside in: We need to advocate for and inspire structural and systems change that hold the problem in place. For example, if 10% of funders changed to multiyear funding, or untied funding in the next 12 months, we would see significant wellbeing upswing. We also need to build a sector-wide measurement framework to track if we are making improvements and what interventions are working.
  • Inside out: Then, we need to ensure all leaders have the tools, resources and skills to address the mental health and wellbeing needs of their organisation. Our data shows many organisations do not have the funds to invest in this area, nor the time. The Community Well resource hub is the first step towards addressing this.

5.    Is The Community Well easy to use and does it cost anything?

The Community Well is for all organisations and it’s easy to use. The site has no cost but if users wish to receive further assistance, we can connect organisations with quality training, consulting and advice. For Stage 2, we are looking to add an Expert Bar facility for 1:1 online consultations, as well as online courses and expanding the in-person trainings nationally.

6.    What’s different about this tool compared to other mental health and wellbeing resources available?

We have aggregated the best resources from leading mental health organisations and created resources where they did not exist. By bringing the resources together, it makes it easier for leaders to access the tools they need in a timely manner. Some other sites are not tailored to the social sector, so we applied that screen to aggregating resources.

7.    Who is using the hub so far and what’s the feedback?

We have had a mix of people from across NFPs, social enterprises and grantmakers of all sizes in different geographic locations. We had 100 people beta test it and got some great feedback. Our work is to keep supporting organisations’ tailored needs. If they need more than what is provided there, they are welcome to contact us.

A great way to be introduced to The Community Well is to join our webinar on 31 August. We are also launching The Community Well at our Inaugural Changemaker Wellbeing Breakfast event, Reimagining Resilience, on 20 October. Thanks again to our funders Equity Trustees and Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.