It’s not easy being a fundraiser at the best of times. But in the current market, the pressures and expectations on fundraising organisations can have a huge impact on our workforce at all levels. What can charities do to help ease the burden and ensure a more positive working culture?
Alongside workplaces from Google to the NHS, charities are increasingly turning to mindfulness techniques to improve organisational cultures and performance. It’s an age-old discipline that has more recently helped individuals and organisations cope more effectively with modern-day challenges, and for fundraisers in the current challenging climate, it can be particularly powerful.
Ultimately, mindfulness is about increasing awareness of ourselves and our impact on those around us. Evidence shows it increases resilience, emotional intelligence and communication — all key attributes for good fundraising. It also enables us to become better listeners, to be more in tune with our own emotional responses, urges, habits and behaviours, helping us to consider more appropriate and skilful responses rather than simply reacting to events.
One of the best-known tools for mindfulness is meditation, and I have to confess that this doesn’t come naturally to me. I tried some sessions, but frankly I was impatient for something to happen. I expected it to be an immediate life-changing moment, and of course it wasn’t.
But I’ve since realised that the trick is to avoid focusing on the results. Observe your thoughts, don’t try and fix or change them — although for a goal-oriented person like myself, this can be easier said than done.
Perhaps the best way to think about mindfulness is as a preparation tool, helping bring about the best frame of mind and set the best conditions for self-aware action, whether that is planning, talking, thinking or doing.
Putting mindfulness into action when fundraising
If you think about conversations with potential supporters, all sorts of things can come into play if the wrong intention is sitting behind an ask. A fundraiser may be worried about meeting his or her targets, or driven by the instant gratification of getting someone to give. These subconscious messages often come through.
With increased self-awareness, fundraisers are better equipped to act in line with their own individual and organisational values. It helps people stay calm — not to push for an answer in any direction, but to really listen and trust that the best parts of us will come through, recognising that the emphasis shouldn’t be on one isolated conversation.
And in the workplace, mindfulness is often seen to have a multiplying effect, improving productivity and impacting not only those who practice, but all those around them, creating a more self-aware work space and, as a result, a healthier culture.
Like anything else, mindfulness needs practice. Meditation — the foundation of mindfulness — may not appeal to every individual, and so there are other techniques to try like writing reflective journals or generally focusing on becoming more “awake” to the present — what is happening now.
If you haven’t given it a try, the challenge is often how to get started. At an organisational level, some charities offer regular mindfulness groups or meditation sessions, while others such as Oxfam have incorporated mindfulness as part of specific leadership development programmes. But mindfulness in the charity sector workplace is still something of a rarity.
So the next time you’re facing a decision, when you’re about to begin a meeting or switch to a new task or campaign, take a moment to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Think about the decisions you’re making in the moment and the impact they may have now and in the future. Then review how you responded, what you felt and did. What was different?
Mastering an increased level of awareness may not happen overnight, but — with the potential to seed a new era of more emotionally intelligent, responsive and resilient fundraisers — it is certainly something that the sector could be taking more seriously. And if you’d like the opportunity to experience meditation with a highly experienced practitioner and discuss how we can nurture, develop and change organisational culture then book a place at our evening event on March 28th in Central London in partnership with the Resource Alliance.