I’d recommend the Llyn Peninsula to anybody who needs a change of scenery. It’s beautiful and invigorating – cycling along country roads with a panoramic sea view couldn’t feel any further removed from life as a fundraising consultant in London.
Taking a step back is important because working in the charity sector can be extremely demanding, especially with organisations under pressure to reduce costs and maximise income. Creativity and enterprise can be replaced by fatigue. So holidays are a crucial opportunity to recharge your batteries and gain some much-needed perspective.
I’d recently broken my ankle so had plenty of time sitting by the pool. I reflected on what I’d liked about Link in the first place – the challenge of running a major fundraising event early in my career, the space to inspire a young team and be innovative. I realised that changing circumstances had gradually eroded my job satisfaction, and wondered how I could regain that and use my expertise in a different way.
During the early morning drive back to the airport, I realised just how little I wanted to go back. My heart wasn’t in it and it wouldn’t have been right to carry on – so two days later I handed in my notice and resolved to become a fundraising consultant for small charities. Lime Green Consulting was the result.
Keeping a healthy level of perspective about your own career – both in and out of the office – definitely helps you to perform better in the long run. Here are eight ways of achieving this:
1. Make sure that a holiday is a real break
These days it’s harder than ever to switch off, with smartphones meaning that our emails are never far away. During a particularly stressful client project in February, I finally decided to switch my email notifications off on a weekend away – and I’ve never had them on at the weekend since!
Time off gives you crucial distance from your desk and sometimes creative ideas start swarming around as a result. You can embrace this without becoming sucked in. I know many people who scribble down ideas on a pad of paper if they come during the night or on holiday, then go back to relaxing knowing that they can pick up on them later.
I’ve met many fundraisers and Trustees who clearly feel guilty and frustrated. Guilty because they’re not able to do more with their limited time, and frustrated at not being able to turn ideas into action. It’s understandable but it doesn’t do you any good.
Taking a step back provides an opportunity to celebrate your successes and appreciate the progress you have made in often challenging circumstances. This inevitably boosts your confidence and inspires you to find ways of building on that success in future.
3. ...but also learn from your mistakes
It’s important to accept when you have got things wrong and analyse how to improve your approach next time. This is hard to do when you’re wrapped up in the day-to-day realities of your role.
Looking back, there have been times when I’ve been overly defensive or naive about my work when problems arose. While there are often extenuating circumstances or several people responsible, you can still learn lessons yourself. Fundraising is about trial and error and innovation goes hand in hand with a risk of failure. Accept this challenge, as long as you can learn from your mistakes.
4. Value your professional development
One of my biggest mistakes at Link was becoming fixated with short-term problems. I was obsessed with the performance of my fundraising events and dismissed some great training opportunities because I was short on time and couldn’t see the short-term benefit. I just didn’t allow myself to prioritise my own long-term development.
While you must of course be focused on your day job, you also need to put yourself first sometimes and embrace opportunities to become a more rounded professional. Investing time in making yourself more employable for the future is so important – and your employer should value that too.
5. Broaden your world by meeting new people
A busy job can make you become insular, so you believe that all the solutions can be found within your own office. If you work at a smaller charity, you may not have many close colleagues to help you, but there will be people at other organisations in a very similar position.
I can’t stress enough how worthwhile it is to meet like-minded people – whether it’s just to share experiences or ask specific advice. Fundraisers are generally a friendly and supportive bunch, so the right networking events are a great use of your time. I’d particularly recommend the London Young Charity Professionals events.
Similarly, there is so much information online that saves you having to learn from your own mistakes! I regularly use a number of LinkedIn groups (including those run by the Institute of Fundraising and UK Fundraising) both to monitor general discussions and find answers to a specific question.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
I’ve been lucky enough to receive some great support from both formal and informal mentors. I think more people should try to seek out somebody who could help to develop and inspire their career. Also think about how you could help others, which is always a hugely rewarding and educational experience. Alex Swallow’s podcast about mentoring is a great introduction to this.
It’s also important to seek help closer to home when you need it. Overworked fundraisers sometimes fall into the trap of working ever-increasing hours as a way of demonstrating that they need extra support. Burning yourself out is never the right way to prove a point – it’s always better to proactively state your case to management.
8. Remember why you’re there
The longer you work somewhere, the easier it becomes to lose sight of the fact that, whatever your challenges, your work is making a genuine difference to lives. Taking the time to remind yourself of what it means to work in the charity sector can really help in the difficult moments.
Alex Swallow also made an important point recently about caring for the cause rather than the charity. As fundraising becomes ever more professionalised and competitive, I’ve seen people lose perspective about the greater good, viewing other organisations only as competitors and threats. Sometimes we need to work together more for the benefit of our end beneficiaries.
I hope that you all get to have a refreshing and reflective summer holiday – make sure you find some time to look after number one!