A flagship project of Benefolk Foundation (formerly The Xfactor Collective Foundation), The Community Well is live this week. It has been a year in development and addresses the growing need in social sector organisations for tailored resources to better manage their staff and volunteers’ mental health and wellbeing.
“More and more people are leaving because they are burnt out,” said Julia Keady, Benefolk Foundation Founder and Executive Director.
Keady highlighted that something had to be done and the Hub was a practical solution, with stage 1 enabled by funding from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.
“We simply can’t afford to lose any more good people from the sector. Rolling natural disasters on top of the pandemic, and now the escalating costs of living, are placing even greater pressure on the social sector.”
“They put their heart and soul into making life better for others, yet often the system lets them down.”
While there are many resources about mental health and wellbeing, Benefolk found they were generic and didn’t take account of some aspects that make the social sector quite different to the corporate, small business and public sectors.
Benefolk Foundation curated and aggregated tailored resources and, where they didn’t exist, created them.
“Our mission is to eradicate changemaker burnout. The first step in doing that is to ensure that directors, executives, managers and volunteers have practical tools to enhance well-being in the workplace,” she added.
The resources in The Community Well are free to access and include tools such as an Organisational Health Check, Workplace Wellbeing Strategy templates, How to Apply a Wellbeing Lens and links through to 80 resources.
Where more tailored support is required, the Benefolk Foundation team is able to support through its extensive provider and partner network.
There are already 150 not-for-profits and charities utilising the hub in beta test, including Danni Howes, Pastor for Christian Life Church Kyogle, in flood-impacted Northern Rivers NSW who has found the hub invaluable.
Keady believes that well-being governance needs to become a sector priority.
“It needs to be on the agenda of every board and executive team. In the same way that we now apply gender and climate lenses to key decisions, we must apply a ‘well-being lens’.”
“However, we also know that many social sector organisations do not have the infrastructure or resources to call on in terms of looking after staff and volunteer mental health and wellbeing. Many don’t even know where to start! That’s why we created The Community Well,” said Keady.
The need for the hub was further evidenced by the Foundation’s research – the RESET 2020 National Impact + Need Research Study, conducted in 2020. This was the first time Australia’s social sector workers had been extensively asked about their mental health and well-being.
The research also uncovered data pointing to pre-existing systemic challenges. More than 80% of respondents said that growing and wide-scale burnout in the sector was an issue pre-pandemic and that COVID had exacerbated and put a spotlight on the systemic root causes of poor mental health outcomes for social sector professionals.
More recently, following Benefolk Foundation’s first place-based capacity building activation in flood-impacted Northern Rivers NSW, 72.6% said that their clients and community often take priority over looking after themselves, 34% cited budget constraints, and 14.5% reported their board and management do not prioritise wellbeing governance.
Keady highlighted that these statistics are especially concerning when the sector deals with many complexities and challenges, including its increasing challenges in meeting service delivery demands.
“There are several systemic factors that affect mental health and individual and organisational wellbeing, including funding uncertainty; inability to build financial reserves; workforce and talent shortages; high rates of employee turnover; and declining volunteering rates, putting more pressure on those that remain.”
“These organisations need free access to practical tools and support, and The Community Well offers that.”
Menchie Khairuddin is a writer Deputy Content Manager at Akolade and content producer for Third Sector News. She is passionate about social affairs specifically in mixed, multicultural heritage and not-for-profit organisations.