Session: Burnout, emotional exhaustion, and the future of the fundraising sector

Michelle Reynolds & Colin Skehan

There is no simple solution to a problem as endemic as emotional exhaustion and burnout is to the charity sector.  Deep personal ties to the mission, workplace cultures minimising the need for rest by normalising overwork, deeply meaningful work that is always urgent, an implicit expectation that working in the charity sector means you should always give well over and above, and societal and systemic ideology that charities should do more with less, all contribute to fundraising professionals, and other charity workers too, working far beyond what is healthy.  Many fundraisers are so committed to their organisation’s mission that the intensity of work feels worth it, but there’s a fine line between finding your work fulfilling, and caring about it so much that it drains you.  If we are ever to see change, we have to start having the difficult conversations. 

Fundraisers need to be empowered and enabled to hold boundaries around workload; to find their individual comfort level around exposure to others' traumatic experiences; to resist the self-imposed yet seemingly reinforced-by-others belief that they must be “always on” and put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. And charities need to be empowered to support their staff - administrative staff, fundraisers, and care staff alike - without fear of public scrutiny of investment in their people.

In this workshop, Michelle shares reflections on her research journey, embarked on as part of her Masters in Integrative Psychotherapy, exploring empathic distress and burnout amongst fundraising professionals in Ireland. 

Colin had his own brush with burnout and mental illness in early 2023. As he worked hard to find his way back, Colin became passionate about mental health and fundraising. He was delighted to learn about the important research conducted by his co-speaker Michelle Reynolds, and proud to contribute. Colin was fortunate to have great support from family, friends and his employer Trócaire. He’s grateful for this, and what he learned in his recovery, and he’s a keen advocate for the wellbeing of fundraisers everywhere.

And we invite you to join the conversation.  Let's start the journey to advocate for change and foster environments where empathy thrives without compromising the emotional health of those who offer it.

Colin Skehan

Dublin-based Colin Skehan is the European Director with global Great Fundraising Consultancy Revolutionise International.  His fundraising journey has taken him from first steps as a door-to-door fundraiser in 2007 to winning Ireland’s ‘Fundraiser of the Year’ award in 2018. More recently he was part of the Trócaire team that won Ireland’s ‘Fundraising Team of the Year’ award twice in the past five years.