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Emotional health and well-being grant shows potential for sector transformation

Over the past few years, mental and emotional health and well-being discussions have greatly increased in Canada. Additional support and resources have also been made more readily available. Still, one necessary part of daily life for many Canadians remains a significant mental health factor —work.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada states that psychological health problems and illnesses are the number one cause of disability in Canada, and 47% of working Canadians consider their work to be the most stressful part of daily life. What’s more, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, only 23% of Canadian workers would feel comfortable talking to their employer about a psychological health issue.

The charitable sector faces unique obstacles to promoting emotional health and well-being to staff. Nonprofit workers devote their time, efforts, and even their lives to the causes they are passionate about. However, their fervent commitment can leave them overworked and emotionally drained. We see charity employees working long hours, going “above and beyond,” enduring stressful employee relations, limited funds and resources, – they are advocating for others, but not taking care of themselves.

A group of people sitting in a circle in a cabin for a group discussion at staff retreat funded by Dragonfly Fund Emotional Health and Well-Being grant program.
Water First used the EHW grant to plan a staff retreat in Georgian Bay. Photo Courtesy of Water First.

Idea and Solution

Earlier this year, Tides Canada with Dragonfly Fund surveyed 93 charitable workers for a report on the sector’s current mental health and wellness resources. We found that participants desired flexible hours and/or work location; extended health benefits; a positive office culture and working relationships; and a supportive manager. We also recognized a clear call to action: find a way to increase funding for the emotional health and well-being of people working in the charitable sector.

And so, the Dragonfly Emotional Health and Well-being (EHW) Grant program was launched. The grant provides grantees with “top up” grants of $500 – $2000, in addition to program or organizational funding, to be used toward employee emotional health and well-being activities.

Impact and Findings

Eight months after the grants were approved, Tides Canada followed up with the recipients to assess whether this targeted support had impacted their EHW.

First, participants stated the grant was unique; it had not been available to them by any other donors. One remarked that it felt like a “different way of granting”. In fact, one participant “would never have thought to apply for this kind of money”. That said, to have it offered on top of the program funding was significant. They felt as if they were being told, “we see you and acknowledge that you need infrastructure support or [investment] in human capacity to run”.

Evidently, participants appreciated that Dragonfly Fund understood the immense emotional toll nonprofit and charity work can take on employees. A respondent expressed that “so many of these orgs are really one or two people driving the organization”. Therefore, the grant acted as an “acknowledgement that you are the engine and [they are] listening to what the engine needs”.

Grantees used the fund for a variety of activities. These included yoga classes, staff wellness retreats, psychotherapy, standing desks, networking and team building lunches, professional coaching, and a general health spending account. The grant’s flexibility allowed them to use the funds for their specific needs.

Additionally, organizations opted to match the grant, which allowed for multiple activities to be accessed on an individual basis. The funding also sparked “honest conversations” about long-term organizational practices that can improve staff well-being in the future.

Next Steps: A Call to Funders

We are hopeful that more dedicated funding will support a healthier and more resilient sector of people creating lasting change in their communities.

The key takeaway from this study was that the encouragement participants received was more valuable than the dollar amount. The grant felt like “having two hands on your back [for support]”, but also allowed them to feel like a partner in the process. Unsurprisingly, when asked if their EHW would benefit from having this funding available in the future, all participants responded, “YES”.

The test and success of this grant program confirms an opportunity for new approaches to grantmaking. If more funders acknowledge and support

Four individuals sit in a cabin listening to a woman leading a professional development training session at a staff retreat funded by Dragonfly Fund Emotional Health and Well-Being grant program. Sticky notes and chart paper with notes cover the windows.
Water First acknowledges Dragonfly Fund's investment in professional development and training.

emotional health and well-being in the charitable sector through dedicated funding, it could result in healthier and stronger people, better able to effect positive change.

Finally, we learned that such funding should be flexible. What can and will support one individual may not do the same for another. Therefore, funded activities should be at the discretion of the organization and its staff to ensure it matches their unique needs.

The Dragonfly Fund EHW Grant program recognizes and addresses a real need within the charitable sector, paving the way for other funders to join in.

Resources

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. (2016). Mental Health: https://www.ccohs.ca/topics/wellness/mentalhealth/index.html

Charity Village. (2016). Is your nonprofit workplace contributing to mental health or mental illness? https://charityvillage.com/cms/content/topic/is_your_nonprofit_contributing_to_mental_health_or_mental_illness#.XYKXHShKjIU

Government of Canada. (2017). Psychological Health in the Workplace: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/health-safety/reports/psychological-health.html#h2.3

Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2016). National Standard: http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/national-standard

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