The Emotional Cost of Charity Work

Africa, Business, Charity, L&D, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized, Volunteer, workplace

Well there’s around 6 weeks left before I go to Africa with a great group of people all volunteering their time (and money) with Retrak charity #ConnectingHRAfrica. A huge thank you to everyone who has donated or sponsored me so far, I truly appreciate it. I’m committed to raising £2k by the end of August and I’m currently at £1,125.

However, not only do I want to thank everyone who has donated and sponsored me (I truly can’t express how grateful I am), I also want to talk about the emotional toll volunteer work like this can have on you. I’m going to share with you some of the things that I’ve learned and hopefully these lessons can help you should you ever choose (which I really hope you do) to volunteer with a charity.

Firstly, I honestly wasn’t expecting this to be so hard, I mean, clearly I was very naïve. I thought to myself, sure, I can commit to raising £2,000, I’ll pay for my flights to Uganda myself, and I’ll pay for my visa, pay for my various injections and malaria tablets – man, charity work is expensive! I have a good job but I’m not Rockefeller and I’ve actually had to get a loan for this and use my annual leave. I thought, with all of the people and all of the companies I know, and work, they’re all surely going to want to donate, nice and easy, because who wouldn’t want to help homeless children in Africa?!…

And this is and has been stressful! In my last blog I spoke about resilience and in all honesty this has really tested mine. The pressure I’ve put on myself too hasn’t helped; desperately not wanting to let the charity down, and what if I pay for my flights and all the rest but don’t raise the money and I can’t go? That could have been money I just gave to the charity in the first place, money lost and wasted! I have had many sleepless nights about this trip and about fundraising. Also, nobody wants to be that person who constantly hounds friends, colleagues and family to donate. You start to feel like a cold-caller or a door-to-door salesperson (avoid eye contact or she’s going to shake her charity bucket at us).

The last thing I want to do is put any of you off doing something like this because I am so proud to be supporting such an amazing charity that does incredible work, but I think you should know what you’re getting yourself in for and also what will help get you through to your goal.

So, here are the things that help make the stress easier:

  • Having a network around you to share your experiences with. I’m really fortunate that I’m travelling to Kampala with a great set of HR peeps, although most of us have never met, through Skype calls and our Facebook group it really feels like we’ve become friends already.
  • Having people you can brainstorm fundraising ideas with. I knew I wanted to do a sponsored spin but I had NO IDEA how to go about doing it. Thankfully my colleague Kerry knows the wonderful staff at the York Marriott Hotel and she was more than happy to connect me up with them. The staff there were brilliant and supportive on the day during the epic 6 hour spinathon and thank goodness I was with my colleague Mark (who kindly volunteered to submit himself to torture with me) or I really think I might have quit before the 6 hour end goal.
  • Support, support, support. My parents have been fantastic! They run a bar and have tapped up all of their friends and punters and anyone that bumps into them in the street or shops (!) to get them to donate. I know they’re really proud of me and that helps motivate me to keep going and achieve my goal. My boyfriend has listened to me stress out and meltdown about it and has reassured me, has shared my JustGiving link with his band and his social media network. My colleagues Kerry and Mark have both listened to me stress and worry and have listened with empathy and then have offered their advice and support.
  • This is one can be really tough. Sometimes it will feel like people aren’t donating because maybe they’re not the friends you thought they were, or maybe because they don’t care that it is really important to you – but don’t take it personally! You have no idea what is going on in their lives and maybe they’re going through a skint spell (it happens to the best of us), or maybe they have their own fundraising going on, it could be any of 100 reasons so please keep that in mind.
  • Remember you’re doing something amazing. Just trying to raise funds for a charity is awesome, so be proud of yourself. Anything you raise is fantastic and will be greatly appreciated and put to good use.

There have also been some amazing positives so far to this experience (honest), and I’m not even there yet meeting the kids and local volunteers and doing such great work.

Some of the most unlikely of people have donated SO generously and it really warms the heart to witness such generosity and such unexpected kindness too. You will be amazed by the selflessness of some people and this work will also reconnect you with people you never thought it would and it really highlights the people who are there for you.

I hope this blog has helped some of you understand how tough charity work can be, but I also hope it inspires some of you to do something that’s tough, outside of your comfort zone but incredibly worthwhile and rewarding.

If you would like to donate please visit my JustGiving page.

For more information on the amazing Retrak charity see their website.



Your Brand of Resilience

Business, depression, L&D, Leadership, Management, mental health, Uncategorized, workplace


How do you keep going when things turn to shit?

Excuse a personal reflection.

I’ve been told I’m a resilient person, in previous blogs I’ve spoken about a few of the things that have happened in the last couple of years (chronic pain, depression, separation – all the good stuff). So how have I kept on keeping on? Well sometimes I haven’t, last year I had 6 weeks off work with depression, this year I’ve had a week off but I’m still keeping on trucking nevertheless.

I’m going to share with you some things that have worked for me and some of the things that contribute to sending me down into a deep pit of despair. If you’re interested in learning more about developing your own resilience you should take a look at these guys The Resilience Development Company – they’re doing some amazing work.

I talk about your “brand” of resilience because you need to know what works for you and also what threatens your resilience too as for different people its different things.

How to recognize when you’re en route to stress: for me, I know I’m struggling with my resilience when I start to more and more resemble Basil Fawlty. By this I mean that things at work that I normally would let go (people talking over me being the main one here) I am no longer able to stay silent about. I also lose my gameface and when someone says something ridiculous to me my thoughts are now all over my face. I start to interpret things personally too (they cancelled a meeting with me to have one with someone else, I must be less important to them etc). So what do I do about this? Firstly, I recognise it is happening. There will always be some people who push your buttons more than others and when I’m in Basil Fawlty mode (which only ever happens in the office and never when I’m out at conferences or delivering programmes) I tell my boss and then I go and work on Introvert tasks on my own in a spare office. I know that I never want to be the person that snaps at a colleague, or upsets someone because I’m feeling low or I’ve lost perspective so I make sure to take myself out of any situation that might end up with that result.

I also ask for help. This is a tough one for me for a number of reasons. 1) I’m proud. 2) I’m a perfectionist. 3) After 4 years of asking the NHS for back surgery and being constantly told no by just about everyone (except a surgeon, go figure), I now have a real fear of asking for help from anyone as my subconscious assumption is that I will be told no, and I’m scared of the emotions that I know that situation will evoke in me. I still quite often ask for help about 3 weeks after I should have, but I’m getting much better at it. Slowly, slowly.

My resilience always takes a hit by a low mood. Depression often involves peaks and troughs, mine is sometimes related to my levels of pain, and sometimes it isn’t apparently related to anything at all. There are some tried and tested ways of boosting my mood. Firstly, exercise. Hitting the gym on an evening or weekend, or spinning will make my mood so much more manageable both at home and at work. However, if my mood is low because my back is in spasm then there is no exercise to be done until my back eases off, so that’s a problem. Delivering programmes boosts my mood. I LOVE being out of the office, meeting new people, running programmes or even attending conferences. I love the buzz, the energy and I love showing off my expertise (definitely one of life’s showboats). But, that all depends on my work calendar, sometimes you’re out of the office for weeks on end and sometimes you’re in the office for weeks on end, alas, it’s the nature of the beast. The point is that my low mood is boosted by doing something I’m good at. I know that praise always improves my mood, my confidence and also my brand of resilience. Find something you’re good at and do it, be it something work related like delivery is for me, or the gym, a sport, writing a blog – anything!

When I’m in the office, here are the things that help:

  • People asking for my advice. One of my colleagues, Janet, is great at doing this. She loves bouncing ideas around, talking about the big picture, she gets me feeling really energised and buzzy and she makes me feel like an expert whose opinion she values. So, Janet – thank you!
  • Leaving the office for lunch/ break. This one is really easy and really important. Again, I have a fantastic colleague, Emma who is always up for grabbing lunch and letting me either sit in silence (but with company) if I need it or letting me vent about something that’s been getting me down. Thanks, Em!
  • Not asking how I am. I know this one probably sounds a little counterintuitive but what I mean is, if you think there is a chance I’m going to feel the need to say “I’m fine” when you ask me, because we’re not in private, or we don’t have that kind of relationship, or because I’ve just come back from sick leave for depression (dur of course I’m not fine), then don’t ask! By all means talk to me, ask me about my plans or how my day is going or tell me things but don’t ask that.
  • Listening to inspiring podcasts or TedTalks while I work.
  • Biscuits. Obviously.

I don’t know if these things will work for you, they certainly can’t hurt though. In the same way as I believe there isn’t one representative experience of depression or of any mental illness, I don’t think there is one type of resilience either. You’ve got to know your brand, how to boost it, and what works for you when it’s lowered. I would love to hear any tips you might have for boosting your mood or your resilience.