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Funding for Impact and Wellbeing

Julia Keady, CEO and founder of The Xfactor Collective, looks at the connection between wellbeing and the systemic issues that led to widespread burnout across the social sector.

Have you ever heard of someone buying a car and asking for a $25,000 discount because they don’t want to pay for the overheads to make the car?

They ask the car dealer if they can reduce the price, as they are not interested in paying for the salaries of those who designed the car, the electricity costs of the factory where it was made, or the shipping to get it to Australia. They would prefer to pay for the actual materials – the body, the tyres, engine and upholstery.

It seems absurd on paper. Yet sadly, it’s a notion that social purpose organisations, including social enterprises, deal with every day, which is becoming a major contributor to the sector’s systemic burnout.

Through the RESET 2020 Impact + Need Research Study and support programs run in 2020 (supported by Equity Trustees Sector Capacity Building Fund), we gained data for the first time on the actual ramifications on our sector’s people and the results are alarming to us.

The September survey showed that 40 to 45 per cent of the sector are now often or always in high levels of stress, exhaustion and overwhelm, with 80 per cent stating that the existing (pre-pandemic) ways of working are to blame. The voices in the research were loud, with many stating, “We can’t go back!” and that existing constraints in the sector exacerbate the impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

For the first time, we also now have a set of pre-pandemic wellbeing indicators (baseline data), which showed nearly one in five were not taking good care of themselves, 16 per cent felt their workload was unachievable, and one in 10 were overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed most or all of the time.

When you relate that to 1.2 million employees in our sector, that equates to hundreds of thousands of hard-working leaders and teams operating under considerable and unnecessary duress. For most, working in the social sector is a meaningful vocation, but sadly it comes at a price – self-sacrifice and high rates of burnout. The focus is often on the beneficiary’s needs, not our sector’s people – those sacrificing their own wellbeing at the frontline.

What exactly is the correlation between burnout and funding? A lack of capacity, core funding, and untied funding makes it difficult to plan, resource adequately, and ultimately commit to beneficiaries. It also makes it challenging to develop and maintain a substantial reserve – we saw this in 2020 with 45 per cent of organisations reporting reserves of six months or less.

But there is hope, and our recent conversations with peak bodies and major grantmakers show evidence of grantmaking policies and practices being adjusted over the past 12 months. In one case, after viewing the results from RESET 2020, a grantmaker funded core costs for the first time in 20 years.

We hear a great deal about renewable-led recovery, care-led recovery. It would be nice to think that together we can create a wellbeing-led recovery starting in our sector, where we prioritise our people, we talk openly about organisational needs, and we fund for the impact we seek to create together. 

To read more on this topic visit Xfactor Collective.

RESET 2020 was supported via the Equity Trustees Sector Capacity Building Fund.

Julia Keady is the CEO and founder of The Xfactor Collective social impact community which has a mission to improve the wellbeing of social changemakers by making it easier to share/access support and advice.
Jay Boolkin
Jay Boolkin

I'm passionate about positive social change and the power of social entrepreneurship to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems. I believe that for-purpose business models can become part of the mainstream and I am enthusiastic about advocating for business models that are genuinely built around a social or environmental mission.

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