Heather Comstock Connects

Helping nonprofits and other volunteer organizations develop strong relationships and a clear voice in the community.

Nonprofit Hats and Mom Jeans

Yeah, I’m a mom who wears jeans.

I currently volunteer with two different kids’ organizations. One of them is very large and well-oiled. There’s lots of support from the national and local areas. They seem to understand that most of the adults involved with this are a bit like deer in the headlights and they provide lots of ways to meet other people, ask questions (even dumb ones), and encourage idea swapping and borrowing. Generally, I feel like a valued and respected volunteer. There are so many people involved that you will surely find an internal tribe of people who share your quirky way of doing things. There’s room for everyone. They struggle like everyone else, but there’s a vast bureaucratic machinery that empowers and provides some controls over the local entities.

Then there’s the other organization that comes with all sorts of baggage (figurative and literal). There are long-timers involved with their own way of doing things. There are people who are members but not actually engaged. There are expectations from the national and state organization to meet. There are unwritten and unsaid expectations that I know nothing about except they’re there. The organization is dependent on individuals for growth and development with very little centralized control. Exactly the sort of thing that is like nails on a chalkboard to this nonprofit person.

So now, I am trying to muddle along and do the right thing, and my default setting is to fall back on my professional experiences and knowledge. Except, I know it will destroy social capital among the individuals if I insist on pursuing that tack. Let me take a step back and note one important fact: I wasn’t recruited because of my professional background, I was recruited because I was a mom. Many of the members have no idea what I do professionally.

Which leads me to the real question: Why did I get involved in the first place? Answer: To provide fun way to learn for my kid. So that’s the yardstick. Did the kids have fun? Did they learn anything? At the end of the day, that should be enough. And no, the destruction of social capital isn’t worth the fight.

What about you? Have you ever found your professional knowledge got in the way of your volunteer service? What did you do about it?

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