Building a resilient charitable sector

Health, Wellness & Recreation

Support2support helps charitable sector leaders support their teams.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty for local charitable organizations, their staff, and communities. Leaders in Winnipeg’s charitable sector are gaining skills and insights they can use to support and build resiliency in their organizations thanks to a new program developed by Volunteer Manitoba, in partnership with The Winnipeg Foundation.

“What we’re seeing is our non-profit leaders in the charitable sector are being taxed beyond [expectation],” says Jackie Hunt, executive director of Volunteer Manitoba. “Small organizations, few staff, few resources – the leaders of those organizations wear many, many hats. And it’s stressful.”

Volunteer Manitoba created Support2Support in response to the current needs of Winnipeg’s charitable sector, and the challenges organizations face that have been amplified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic changes the way we [in the charitable sector] do business,” says Hunt. “We’ve had to navigate a remote workforce and still keep our team members engaged and inspired; keeping the lights on, as funding has changed for many organizations; and still trying to keep all of our programming that our mandate asks of us.”

Charitable sector leaders are dealing with these increased demands sometimes at the expense of their own mental health and emotional well-being, which reduces their ability to support staff who may be experiencing challenges.

“It’s [like] that analogy of the oxygen mask in the airplane: they tell you to put yours on first so that you can care for others. This is often what we see – burnout, stress, and high anxiety – because we forget to look after ourselves.”

Operating virtually from June to September 2021, Support2Support’s weekly sessions provided executive directors, CEOs, and non-profit leaders with opportunities to check in with one another and address the difficulties they face, along with facilitated coaching which built self-care skills and techniques to support themselves and their staff.

Group sizes were kept small to encourage engagement and participation, and a private Facebook group provided opportunities to connect and support one another outside of scheduled sessions.

“Clearly the need was there, because within the first week of putting [the announcement] on social media, we had almost 70 applications for the program,” Hunt says.

The feedback Volunteer Manitoba received has been overwhelmingly positive, with participants sharing their appreciation for the open conversations they’ve had with others who are experiencing similar challenges, along with the activities and exercises they’ve been able to share with their organizations.

“Clearly the need was there… we had almost 70 applications for the program.”

Jackie Hunt, executive director of Volunteer Manitoba

“I learned better strategies to look after myself, to accept myself, and embrace myself with love, kindness, and courage,” says a Support2Support participant.

“We learned the seven ways of healing, reflection strategies, and how to apply them effectively.”

Support2Support sessions helped charitable sector leaders focus on stress management strategies, and how they can lead their organizations through constant change.

“Lots of the feedback we received focused on how the strategies [participants] learned take practice, but they make a huge difference when leading a team,” says Kamillah El-Giadaa, training and development coordinator at Volunteer Manitoba.

“We also saw many leaders creating spaces within their teams to have an open dialogue about the challenges staff face.”

The program costs more than $1,000 per person to operate, but with support from The Winnipeg Foundation, Support2Support was offered free of charge to 15 participants. Foundation support also allowed Support2Support to double its capacity, adding a second cohort of 15 spots.

“We know that, for this session, 30 leaders in Manitoba non-profits [have had] a chance to self-reflect and learn some skills to build resiliency so they can continue to be amazing leaders in our sector,” says Hunt.

Many participants noted the need for workshops like Support2Support in a follow-up survey, and Volunteer Manitoba hopes to offer similar programming in the future.

“It’s important for us to know what our non-profit leaders are needing to help support them now, through the pandemic, and as we recover from it,” Hunt says.

Recipient: Volunteer Manitoba
Program: Support2Support
Grant: $24,600, drawn from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund

This story is featured in the Fall 2021 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.

About the photo

Photo courtesy of Volunteer Manitoba

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