I was speaking to a group of professional women this week and one woman shared that while she didn’t have a lot of time to be involved in her kids’ school. But she did take a position on an educational non-profit board so she could “keep abreast of what was going on.” While on the surface this seems like a great way to exercise “strategic volunteerism”, the devil is in the details. The position she took? Secretary.
Now, I’m not saying this isn’t a necessary or involved Volunteer role. However, it reflects a broader problem women continue to have about volunteerism. Instead of maximizing the opportunity to network, expose themselves to different, riskier roles, or act as a gender-neutral role model for youth, they cling to easy, safe, behind-the-scenes, administrative roles.
Let’s face it. Some roles on boards are all about networking. President, head of fundraising, volunteer recruiting, and anything to do with policy change are about who you know and how many people you can influence. Contacts you make here can be valuable for your existing work or should you decide to change jobs down the road. They can be potential customers, employees, employers, or funding providers. They can also link you to other networks outside of your work and be important referrals. Why take a back office role that limits your access to these people? Further, with few women’s voices in the influential roles, we are robbing organizations of diversity of thoughts and perspectives. We are robbing them of our voice in impacting policy, precisely the things that impact our families and communities.
Some of these positions may be out of your comfort zone. Fundraising can be intimidating because you have to ask people for money. Executive leadership means you have to manage people and facilitate, which is assuredly challenging. Coaching sports means you have to take a risk and teach something you may not know well yourself. But expanding your universe fosters your own growth and development. What better place to take these risks than in a position where you can’t get fired? And if you do well, you may discover a whole new vocation or a hidden talent. You might even parley the experience into a promotion at work. If you succeed, you will have exposed yourself to a new network of people who have watched you successfully grow a new set of skills. If you fail, nobody you work with will know about it. It’s the perfect lab!
Do you think men know how to do these things the first time, either? Nope, they are just less fearful of trying something new and they give themselves the leeway to learn (and make mistakes).
Finally, there are plenty of volunteer roles where you can mentor young people. When you photocopy worksheets in your child’s classroom or organize uniforms and snack for sports, while the men are coaching and running the Soccer program, you message to the next generation that women belong in support roles and men in leadership. That sports are really mostly for boys. And that women should do the behind the scenes work that keeps everything clicking along, without recognition or compensation, which keeps non-profit pay scales low and prevents organizations from hiring necessary help.
It’s time to bring strategic volunteerism to a whole new level. Think about the investment of your time and energy as precious. Add value to the organization and make sure you get something out of it for you and/or for your children. Coach that sports- team: I promise you will figure it out! Lead that board: You will make a difference! Raise those funds: You will build a valuable network! And the world will change for the better with you leading the way.
© Kelly Watson