Juggling Commitments: Nonprofit Volunteering
If there is one thing I believe in as a mom blogger, it is commitment to truth and portraying my life as accurately as I can. More than anything, I would never want another mom to ever feel discouraged, inadequate, or less-than because they can’t somehow live up to the rosy, overly-edited online versions of motherhood others are putting out there. Because the truth is we are all – myself included – a hot, stinking mess just barely scraping by.
So I’m going to put it all out there this week – my triumphs and pitfalls of all the nonprofit volunteer commitments I seem to rack up.
Some background: Right now, these are my current commitments:
Junior League of Wichita Falls
I’ve been a part of this organization since 2013. Last year I was on the Board of Directors which was a HUGE time commitment and while it was a great learning experience, it certainly left me feeling drained. (It could be because I clocked 210 volunteer hours in just 12 months.) This year I have new assignments with less time commitment, but will still probably finish the year with about 60-80 hours of volunteer time, most of it in the evening after work (during those precious hours I see my kid between preschool/work and bedtime). Even so, I refuse to quit because this organization has changed my life, fed my soul, and found me my best friends in this city.
Children’s Miracle Network
I joined their Development Committee in 2016 because I was asked by a coworker, and because this is the preferred charity of credit unions, and almost every credit union in town is represented on their committee. Beyond that, I relate to their mission as a mom, and someone who went through a high-risk pregnancy. Being able to tell my family I would be delivering at a CMN Partner Hospital gave me and them a great deal of peace of mind. Meetings are monthly at lunch and events where I volunteer are only about twice a year, for approximately 20 hours a year.
I was asked by a very dear friend to join her on this Board over the summer, and it was hard to resist because aside from being able to see her more, I do hold the arts very dear and feel very strongly that an arts education can change lives. I was also told they needed marketing advice in particular. Meetings are monthly at lunch and while attendance at their (free!) events is encouraged, it’s not mandatory. Time commitment = about 20 hours a year.
North Texas Area United Way
At TCCU, one of our checking accounts benefits United Way (and 3 other local nonprofits) each time you swipe. Last year we committed to send a TCCU employee to be a Loaned Executive in the Fall, knowing this person would go speak to other businesses about why they should donate and how to start. I will admit, this felt like a situation where I didn’t really have much of a choice – they needed a TCCU employee with a flexible schedule during the workday, and someone who was comfortable with public speaking – which very quickly narrowed the candidates to… just me. Lol. But after spending two days touring partner organizations and hearing from their directors, my heart is definitely 100% IN, and I am so glad I am a part of it. Total time commitment? The 15 hours of training + 5 more hours or so this Fall.
So yes, after I spent last week hearing from 16 different local nonprofits (aka “funded partners” of United Way) and SEEING the impact they have on our community, I left inspired, PUMPED, a let’s admit it – a little cocky, and a lot like I had it all figured out.
Now that I’m sitting at my desk on a Monday morning drowning in paperwork, the overwhelm has set in. But it’s the same overwhelm I always feel at the beginning of a project. It’s the same overwhelm I always used to feel on the first day of school, when each teacher would pass out a syllabus and give you an overview of the entire year, and I would focus more on the long, long list rather than the part about the “entire year” to complete it.
But I already promised some friends I would share how I balance it all, so I am still going to attempt to do that. And maybe in the process of sorting it out here, I will feel the overwhelm go away.
Lauren’s Rules for Nonprofit Volunteering:
1. Go In With Eyes Open.
Ask lots of questions. Starting with:
- What are your expectations of volunteers in this position?
- When do you meet?
- What is the time commitment involved? (How many hours do I volunteer? How long am I committed for? Three months? One year? Three years?)
- What are your goals for the organization?
- How do you see me helping or furthering those goals? How can I be of most value to the organization?
- Can I attend the first meeting/event as a guest before I commit? (Most often the answer is yes!)
Know what you are getting yourself into, so that expectations are set at the beginning and no one is left frustrated or disappointed at the end of the experience (on either side).
2. The Mission and Your Schedule Are Equally Important.
Yes, you need to go where your heart tells you, but what is equally important is the WHERE and WHEN of helping the organization you love.
Before we had a kid, my husband didn’t mind me being gone for meetings and events because it was an excuse for him to enjoy a guy’s night or alone time. Now anytime I’m gone, it means he pulls double-duty with our crazy two year old, so I’ve changed the way I evaluate opportunities and said goodbye to some that still mean a lot to me.
What this often means is that the ONLY circumstance I will help an organization these days is if their meetings are during my lunch breaks. (Note: CMN, Arts Council and United Way all meet at lunch. Junior League has been grandfathered. Lol.)
3. Check In With Your Employer.
I am extremely blessed that my employer values community involvement.
All employees at TCCU, regardless of job function, are given 32 paid volunteer hours a year, to be used at their discretion (with HR approval). Beyond that, in my role as Marketing Director I am encouraged to be out in the community.
Traditionally, this means attending networking events, but I am a firm believer that working alongside someone to make a difference builds connections far stronger than anyone ever made sipping wine at a mixer. (And as an introvert, I find this a way less socially awkward way of meeting new people.)
If you want to get involved, talk to your employer about it. You may be surprised to learn about policies already in place, or their mentality on taking time to help the community.
While most of my committees meet at lunch, I am able to leverage that paid volunteer time and my bosses’ directives to attend functions during the workday, which makes a huge difference in my home life.
4. Match Your Skills With Their Need.
You would not believe how many nonprofits here in town need more than just boots on the ground. They need people with financial backgrounds, they need marketing expertise, event management experience. They need people who know Robert’s Rules of Order and how to review contracts and assess liability. They need people to attend their events and hype them up online using their social networks to bolster awareness. They need a young perspective on how to attract a new generation of donors.
Yes, sometimes offering nothing more than your unique perspective on how they’ve been approaching the same thing the same way for years can go miles.
Sometimes, what they need more than anything is E.N.T.H.U.S.I.A.S.M.
When I look at volunteering opportunities, I know I don’t have a ton of time to give. But what I do have is some experience in nonprofit fundraising, nonprofit and for-profit event planning, public relations, public speaking, and marketing strategy. If a nonprofit wants and is willing to hear my feedback, I am happy to give it. Strategizing for them does take time, but it’s something I can do on my own time, and then come back to the table with at our next meeting. It’s also a lot more efficient for me to work on these types of projects than someone else without a similar background. I’ve seen what works, and I can look at a situation relatively quickly and make some meaningful suggestions.
Likewise, I know board governance and finances are something I am still working on – it would take me a LOT more time for me to get up to speed and help out in these areas than others, so I tend to stay away. Yes, I would like to grow in my knowledge and someday I may accept volunteer roles like these, but with my life in a time-crunch these days, it’s not the best route to take. Note: Junior League does an excellent job of training in these areas, if you yourself are looking to learn more.
5. Give Your Best Yes.
Okay, so this is a rule I am very bad at following. Many people have suggested I read the book that bears that title. I tend to get really excited about something and want to be a part of it and not miss out on opportunities so I say YES before I really should. Hence the four THICK binders on my desk right now, all with different nonprofit logos. And the extra hair -both gray and brown – in my hairbrush these days.
But the truth is that if you are not going to be able to live up to the commitment you’ve made, you should be upfront about it. It doesn’t have to be a “no” forever – it can be a “check back in with me this same time next year when you recruit again.”
And be ready for more people to start asking – once you volunteer for one thing, and people see what you are good at, a new world opens up. And it’s full of possibilities and opportunities that are hard to say no to. So be prepared.
6. Move On When It’s Time.
My parents always drilled into me that you fulfill your commitments and finish what you start. Hate piano lessons? Not sure about that AP class? Finish out the year and then we’ll reevaluate.
As an adult, I have a guilt complex about quitting. But life circumstances change. Volunteering in one capacity may have fit perfectly one year, and it may not the next. Boards get stale without new perspectives. If you need to bow out, THAT’S OKAY. *Repeats this mantra to self daily*
Do so gracefully by giving them notice and time to fill your spot or wrap up your current project, or even better – help them with some succession planning and give them some leads on great new volunteers.
Bottom Line: Find Balance.
A year ago my promise and battlecry was “NO NEW COMMITMENTS IN 2018!!!!” And then I joined two more nonprofit organizations. *Oops*
Yes, I make myself crazy by going head-over-heels for new things. But that’s who I am, and again, that’s what feeds my soul. I know the perfect balance still isn’t there, and I am still trying to find the less-crazy, still-fulfilled version of myself. I feel like these rules go a long way to getting there – if only I would follow them all the time. 😉