How was IoFFC for you?
It was a different vibe for me this year. I don’t know if it’s because it was my first year on the Convention Board so I’ve been involved in the planning, or because I finally succumbed to the flu my three-year-old has been kindly offering to share for the past week, but it was definitely a calmer and more mindful IoFFC than I’ve ever been to.
This year I skipped the Tweeting and need to be in a session AT ALL TIMES and focussed my (ever decreasing) energy on people; meeting with them, listening to them and really connecting. I listened to my body when it was struggling to keep up and was able to find a quiet spot or a comfy beanbag to chill out before I could re-join (if anyone saw me getting up off one of those bags you better not tell anyone how ungraceful that looked…).
The theme of connection, vulnerability, and self-care ran through a lot of IoFFC this year even though the subject made up only a handful of the session content. In my catch-ups with fundraisers, we discussed burnout, being treated badly in jobs and the impact on mental health and the ever-increasing pressure to nail it when the odds are stacked against us. This openness led to my own vulnerability and I surprised myself with being honest in conversations about my own thoughts and failures and reflecting on how that shaped my relationships with peers and what was to come next in my career journey. This self-reflection actually made me feel empowered to cut out the fluff and just be direct about what I need and expect to be able to succeed, which is especially helpful as I head out solo with my own freelance work!
The topic of wellbeing was definitely highlighted in Neil and Jonny’s Tuesday plenary
when the subject of mental health and suicide was in the spotlight for the most-packed out IoFFC plenary that I’ve ever been to. The online response was phenomenal, but how do we keep that conversation going in our teams and with each other when the shine of the hashtag has faded?
The open conversations helped set the stage for the final Wednesday session when Pizza for Losers made a brief, one hour return with Danyial Gilani, Lizzi Hollis, Emily Petty and Ben Swart sharing their personal experiences of failure and how that’s shaped their current-day success. Two of those talks were super personal, and I could sense that appreciation and connection in the room as the speaker let go of their story and the audience took it on and heard they weren’t alone. It’s easy to feel like you’re failing if you’re not coping but needing to reset, recharge and sometimes even quit is definitely not failing. Looking after yourself is NOT a failure. It’s not easy standing up in front of a room of over 60 people and say, ‘this didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but it’s ok’; but I think the speakers took more from that than the attendees did, proving that talking and opening up is the first step to moving forward to be in a better place.
Joe Jenkins asked me in an interview for IoF something along the lines of ‘are organisations doing enough to look after the wellbeing of staff?’, my answer was ‘no’ (it was actually a lot longer than that but Monday feels like it was a lifetime ago). We talk about it a lot with each other, but there lacks a proper understanding and “process” where employees can actually get support. I wonder if organisations are reluctant to open up too much about this for fear of a mass-staff sickness, or if it’s a genuine ‘we have no idea where to start’ kind of thing.
As a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA), and someone who experiences related issues, mental health is massively misunderstood. There’s the idea that if you’re not in bed alone in a dark room then you’re not struggling, but poor mental health and wellbeing looks and feels different in different people. This can then be hard to spot when someone’s struggling, but also some people are pretty awful in talking with people about mental health and knowing how to support them – and it’s easy to quickly retreat again if you’ve finally opened up and it’s going terribly, terribly wrong. And whilst MHFA training is important, my worry is that once again it puts the emphasis and responsibility on peers supporting peers when the guidance has to come from the top down; and to be honest the MHFA trained people I know aren’t really the people I would go to for help, and they may say the same about me, so what good does it really do apart from tick a box?
I’d like to see more discussions around this on a more prominent platform next year and some sessions from charities and companies who have managed to put good support networks in place that we can learn from. I’m in a fortunate place on the Board that I can make that known, but I need to know what good things are happening out there so I can bring it into the picture (and also learn from it). I don’t want this to just be a, ‘Wow, that was an amazing experience!’, flash in the line-up so please let me know what’s happening out there so we can do more to help people who are trying to change the world.
So my biggest takeaway from IoFFC this year wasn’t a big ‘EUREKA’ moment in a session or a soundbite from a speaker that made me realise what I need to do to succeed, it was the individual conversations and connections with other fundraisers that made me feel supported, reinvigorated and part of a crew of caring and wonderful people who are all human, just like me. I’ll be trying to package this into something more for the IOFNW conference in September where I’ll be delivering the opening plenary and a session on learning from failure – hopefully I’ll see you there to tell you more and we can continue the conversation.