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Five ways charity communicators can emotionally protect themselves

2 November 2018

Why did you want to work in the charity sector?

People who work for charities are often drawn to a cause because they have experience of it themselves. Or they may have lived through injustice and want to help people. This can make them passionate, expert and determined employees. But it can also be triggering and have a negative effect on their mental health.

This is true of charity communicators as well as those who work more directly with the people our organisations support. Because working in charity communications isn’t all acronyms and analytics. There are lots of things that we do that can have an emotional impact on us beyond home time, from telling the stories of the people our charities support, to running focus groups and developing content.

Charities need to have good practices in place to look after their employees. This is something that has become particularly apparent to me since I became a qualified counsellor, alongside my charity copywriting.

For this to happen, charity communicators need to prioritise their own, and colleagues, self-care. Then we’ll be better able to serve the people our charities support. Here are five ideas to help you better take take care of yourself as a charity communicator.

1. Debrief as soon as possible

Organise your own debrief after a difficult day to discuss emotionally charged projects. It might be with your line manager. But it doesn’t have to be. You could ask a colleague you trust for a chat at the end of the day, so you have a chance to process emotions that might have come up for you.

You might have interviewed a ‘case study’, for example, and heard traumatic detail of someone’s life. Or you might be supporting a volunteer through a difficult time. This will have an effect on you in some way. Acknowledging this is important for your mental health, the people you are working with, and your organisation. And doing it quickly will help make sure emotions don’t build up.

2. Ask for support

It’s not weak or wrong to ask for help. There are only so many hours in the day, even when you work for a charity. Often, charity communicators are reluctant to say “no” when work is piling up because they feel like they owe it to donors to work beyond their limits. But, obviously, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’ll probably not be at your best.

It’s better for everyone if you work within your limits. If you feel like you’re staying late too often, are taking work home or are juggling too much, talk to your manager about what can be done to change this.

3. Build wash-ups into project schedules

When things go wrong in projects, resentments can build. They can get carried over into the next project you work on and blow up again. That might lead to a particularly tricky relationship with a colleague. Or a low-quality communication – the result of poor relationships.

This gives us charity communicators headaches which make working life more stressful than it should be. Having a wash-up style meeting at the end of every project, with the key people who were involved in it, can help avoid this. Discuss what went well and what could be improved.

4. Know it’s okay to be ‘good enough’

The work we do as charity communicators can sometimes never feel enough. We feel passionate about our cause and sometimes achieving our charity’s vision can feel very far away. So we strive to do more and be better because we can see the injustice that our charity is trying to change. But that can be exhausting too.

The concept of being ‘good enough’ can be really helpful to help combat this. It’s a term used by paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and is about not striving to be perfect, but accepting that it is only ever possible to be ‘good enough’.

5. Build a support network

Get to know other charity communicators in similar organisations, and from very different ones. You can offer each other mutual support with workplace stresses and strains – and celebrate achievements and successes, which is also important. Of course, CharityComms seminars, special interest groups and conferences are the perfect place to network and strike up lasting, supportive working relationships.

If you’re finding it difficult to manage your emotions and feelings more generally, you could talk to your GP. Here are some mental health helplines which can also offer support.

Image: Ricardo Resende on Unsplash

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Achieving a healthy work life balance

Trina Wallace

copywriter and editor, freelance

Trina Wallace is a copywriter, editor and communications consultant with around 14 years’ experience in the charity sector. She has worked with over 70 charities, including Cancer Research UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Alzheimer’s Society and Oxfam. Trina specialises in writing audience-focused communications that inspire people to take action.