Leaders call for immediate action to tackle and prevent burnout in social sector

Response comes after 220 NFP organisations indicate they’re experiencing barriers to addressing wellbeing.

Additional funds committed to newly-launched wellbeing resource hub.

Leaders of Australia’s charities, social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations are calling for more action across the sector to prevent burnout and enhance the wellbeing of the sector’s workforce and volunteers.

At a breakfast on Friday last week, convened by Australia’s only charity focused on the wellbeing of those who work and volunteer in the sector, Benefolk Foundation (formerly The Xfactor Collective Foundation), more than 160 attendees identified a number of critical changes to current practices that could enhance the overall mental health of the community sector.

Attended by leaders from organisations large and small, as well as government representatives and leading philanthropic foundations, the theme of the event was ‘Reimagining Resilience’.

Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, Hon. Andrew Leigh told delegates “Australia’s charity and non-profit sector is eight per cent of the economy, 10 per cent of the workforce, and mobilises three million volunteers. Improving the wellbeing of staff and volunteers is vital to building a stronger charity sector that can continue to support vulnerable Australians and build a more connected and caring country.”

The Assistant Minister also formally launched The Community Well, an online wellbeing resource hub specifically designed for the social sector.

After hearing from Dr Catherine Brown, CEO of Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Ben Vasiliou, CEO of Youth Works (the inaugural winners of the Australian Scholarship Foundation’s Wellbeing Governance Award), Associate Professor Wendy Scaife, Director of Benefolk Foundation, led a session where delegates developed a list of practices that the sector needs to start and to stop to help reimagine resilience in the sector.

The actions they’ve called for included moving to the use of productivity metrics over hours worked; letting entrepreneurship shine over process; and undertaking more professional development. There was also a strong call for stopping the scarcity mindset, not underpaying staff and accepting that funding needs to cover more operating costs.

Benefolk Founder and CEO, Julia Keady, says that while action was urgent in 2020, it’s critical now. “We can’t go into 2024 without a commitment to change in how our people’s mental health is safe guarded. We will lose more good people, and they are not an infinite resource.”

One of the actions that Benefolk will be taking following the breakfast is to provide more free resources and tailored support for the sector’s workforce and volunteers, thanks to generous support from The Ian Potter Foundation, announced at the breakfast.

Benefolk Foundation will utilise the three-year grant to add new online courses to The Community Well, as well as provide organisational mental health and wellbeing support online and over the phone. It will also host the first sector-wide National Wellbeing Summit in 2024.

Recent research from Benefolk Foundation confirms that there are increasing and significant barriers when it comes to not-for-profit organisations and charities accessing the support they need, so additional support is urgently needed.

“Over the last 12 months,” Ms Keady said, “we’ve been running regular polls, building up a picture of the barriers that charities and NFPs are facing which are preventing them from taking action on wellbeing. From the more than 220 organisations that we’ve polled, it’s clear that the biggest barrier is the ability to prioritise spending time on staff or volunteers, as clients and the community often take priority (reported by nearly 58% of respondents) or there’s simply not enough time in the day (45%). Other factors reported are not having the budget for support or training (37%) or not having access to local providers or training (32%). Further, 16% of respondents said that their board or committee simply don’t prioritise wellbeing.

“That’s why this funding from Ian Potter Foundation is so important. It will allow us to expand The Community Well to provide more resources, as well as cost-effective access to subject matter experts. This will enable us to offer wrap-around support to Australia’s 800,000 not-for-profit (NFP) organisations to help them take action to prevent and address the increasing levels of stress and anxiety among the sector’s workforce,” Ms Keady explained.

Globally, it’s more critical than ever. With only 12% of the UN Sustainable Development Goals on track 7.5 years in, the time to prioritise changemaker resilience has also become urgent, if we are to rebalance global and local inequities.

“If the people who turn up every day to work and volunteer in our sector are healthy and strong, then it follows that the impact they create will be greater. This funding will create a step-change in the wellbeing of the sector, and we are grateful for the opportunity to add to what we’ve already built with the support of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Equity Trustees,” Ms Keady said.

Chairman of The Ian Potter Foundation, Mr Charles Goode AC, said, "The Foundation is pleased to support the expansion of this innovative resource. Benefolk Foundation has identified poor mental health as an area of high risk for the NFP sector and has developed resources that will make a difference, in particular to help smaller organisations better support their employees and volunteers.

"This is a critical issue for the sector, and we look forward to seeing more organisations making use of The Community Well and the new resources this funding will enable," Mr Goode said.


  • Australia’s social sector comprises 800,000 organisations (mostly small or very small), employs 1.2 million people and has millions of volunteers.
  • In 2020, we undertook the RESET 2020 National Impact + Need Research Study involving more than 300 of these organisations – the first time Australian social sector workers were asked extensively about their mental health and wellbeing. It revealed concerning results:
    • 45% of respondents reported being stressed or anxious often or always;
    • 41% felt frustrated, cynical or exhausted often or always;
    • More than 30% reported they did not have expertise in-house, nor the resources to support their organisations’ mental health and wellbeing; and
    • 80% said that these issues existed pre-pandemic.
  • Research undertaken by Benefolk Foundation during 2023 (n=220) confirms that barriers still exist to organisations taking action on improving mental health and wellbeing:
    • 58% prioritise clients and communities, rather than investing in themselves;
    • 45% report having insufficient time;
    • 37% don’t have budget for support, advice or training;
    • 32% don’t have local access to the right resources / advice; and
    • 16% of Boards do not prioritise organisational wellbeing.

About Benefolk

Benefolk (formerly The Xfactor Collective) connects not-for-profits, charities and impact-focused businesses to the very best support and expertise from our network of trusted consultants and professional service providers. As a Certified Social Enterprise and Certified B-Corp, we’re fiercely dedicated to changemakers. Through our sister charity, Benefolk Foundation, we provide resources and undertake advocacy to help all social changemakers achieve their mission without burning out. Learn more at www.benefolk.org.

About The Community Well

The Community Well includes 80+ resources from leading wellbeing organisations. Where resources didn’t exist, Benefolk Foundation drew on the expertise of the Benefolk Network experts to create new materials. Resources are organised under six pillars - prevent, protect, educate, enhance (individual wellbeing), crisis and recovery, making it easy to navigate, with information delivered in bite-sized pieces. Explore the resource at www.benefolk.org/wellbeing

About Ian Potter Foundation

The Ian Potter Foundation is one of Australia’s major philanthropic foundations. The Foundation makes grants nationally to support charitable organisations working to benefit the community across a wide range of sectors including the arts, medical research, public health research, early childhood development, community wellbeing and environmental science. The Ian Potter Foundation aims to support and promote a fair, healthy, sustainable and vibrant Australia. Learn more: www.ianpotter.org.au


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Monday, 23 October 2023 01:00


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