Concerns of a charity chameleon


James Jopling has enjoyed working for charities for over 20 years but wonders whether shifting from cause to cause is taking its toll

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26th May 2016 by TFN Guest 1 Comment

I found myself in London a couple of weekends ago, attending the very powerful and moving funeral of a trustee of a charity I used to work for and who I had grown to know well over recent years. It cast me back into the world of that charity, with not only former colleagues but volunteers, fundraisers and advocates for the organisation there with me.

The journey back to Scotland gave me pause to reflect. What do that cause and those people mean to me now it is no longer my job to be there? 

Given I’ve now volunteered and worked in this sector for the past 21 years, what accumulated imprint have all those causes and supporters in that range of organisations had on me? And does that affect my ability to be effective right now in the one I’m in today?

James Jopling

James Jopling

How often can we keep jumping ships and committing to another case for change? Is it possible that those working in the sector can start to experience charity fatigue themselves?

For any of us who’ve been in the sector for while, engagement in the issue and having a passion for that issue is a lot of what drives us. And we might imagine that it’s something those in the commercial sector just couldn’t have in the same way. But if that is the case, how often can we keep jumping ships and committing to another case for change? Is it possible that those working in the sector can start to experience charity fatigue themselves?

I’ve sometimes looked on one-charity people with a degree of envy – not only from the impact their accumulated wisdom can have for their cause but because they don’t have to ever break those bonds and start somewhere else.  But I do think that charitable organisations can benefit from new perspectives and new faces. Especially when that can challenge the status quo and the too often "that wouldn’t work here because in 1996 when we tried it..." equivalent.

So I’m not damning the charity professional who has changed tack now and then. But I do think that can come at a cost to both the individual and to the organisation they leave.

Those women I knew (and still know) who still have breast cancer obviously can’t make the same choice as me to simply move on. So it’s not surprising that if you cared when you worked to champion their needs, you can’t just put that down and pick up somewhere else without feelings of connectedness to the people still struggling with the disease.

The funeral did make me think whether we give ourselves enough time and space to reflect on the impact of the causes we care about and the people they affect as charity professionals and as people. But if we didn’t care then surely we wouldn’t be any good at what we do?

Would I rather not have to attend the funeral of someone I grew to know well and who died from the disease my then charity was there to eradicate? Of course. Would I give up the chance to work somewhere else that is committed to change the lives of others in the future? Absolutely not.

30th May 2016 by LC

I think James raises an interesting point. However, it is hard to see a solution when the very problem is being exacerbated by the current state of grant funding and short term contracts. I'd imagine movement is most often performed out of necessity as opposed to active will and switching of causes out of a requirement to continue paying one's own bills.