One of the big reasons I left full-time journalism was because I was so inspired by all of the amazing people I’d write about. They were doing things that were interesting and community-building. Reporting for Juice gave me a great view of what was going on and what was needed and I and was (literally) taking notes on how I wanted to get involved. Sometimes working at a newspaper creates lots of conflicts of interest and makes it difficult to pursue leadership roles.
Volunteering was a huge part of my life growing up and when I think about what brings out the best in me, I look back to the roles I had in the community where I was raised. I love Des Moines and I feel like there are so many opportunities to “be the change,” but I do also notice that because of the small-town nature of our city, leadership is sometimes passed down generation to generation.
We have an amazing group of philanthropically minded families in Des Moines, but I’ve sensed that as transplant you really have to make the effort and raise your hand, so to speak, or you’re not necessarily going to get called on. This was a strange lesson for me, because where I grew up, I had established myself from a young age as a dedicated volunteer. My best friend and I both won Rotary Youth Service awards, and my weekends were more likely spent dressed in historical attire giving tours of a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse than hanging out at the mall. When you move to a new place, you can’t rest on a reputation you built as a teen.
Now, almost two years after I’ve left journalism, I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to find fulfilling full-time work and truly pursue some cool side-projects. It was awesome and exhausting* to help pull together the July TEDxDesMoines event with a small, dedicated team. And last weekend, I helped launch a new group called YNPN Des Moines, a startup chapter of the national Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.
I wrote awhile back about “my problem with non” and growing into a new professional identity. The team steering the formation of YNPN is all about building up the fantastic network of people who do good in Des Moines, in hopes that we can foster collaboration, share resources and help each other become even better versions of our personal and professional selves. We’re really excited to get it off the ground, and then hopefully pass the torch to others who are motivated and have time to take on the group.
If volunteering was a big part of how you grew up, but you haven’t made the connection to a charitable group yet and don’t want to switch over to the nonprofit world, here are some ideas:
Attend the annual YPC Nonprofit Forum this Thursday evening:
I’ll be there representing the Des Moines “I Have a Dream” Foundation and recruiting for YNPN.
100 Chicks for Charity also has a meeting that night. It’s a quarterly giving society whose members contribute $50 four times a year to a nonprofit that presents and gets the most votes at the meetings. It’s a great concept. I know $200 might seem like a lot of money to give to charity, but if you think about how much you spend to update your wardrobe seasonally, it might even out. (There’s also a 100 Dudes who Donate)
I also help put together the Giving City newsletter for DSM, which comes out monthly. It’s full of nonprofit fundraiser events, so if you’re looking for a night out on the town that also gives back, sign up!
* “Getting Involved” can be draining and energizing in the same way that establishing a new workout routing can be. I’m still working on balancing out the number of meetings I have with downtime at home, and some weeks leave me more wiped than others. So I’d advise — from experience — that you dip a toe in before committing to more organizations than you can handle. If something isn’t working out, make every effort to follow through on a commitment, but be honest and up-front about needing to back away and pitch in when and how you can.