I suppose my first experience working with the nonprofit sector would have been in high school, desperately trying to get my 40 hours in before graduation day. But the truth is – all I really remember is picking up garbage in some park, for some cause… I may still have a t-shirt somewhere.
Not the kind of life altering, finally seeing the world through new eyes, tug at my heart strings kind of experience some might expect.
My love for the nonprofit sector is not some summer fling. It cannot be likened to a passionate affair, destined to be short-lived after the fires of passion burn out. It’s not the kind of love that will become a story of the past when I finally settle down with a calmer, more realistic and stable choice.
This, my friends, is the real deal.
It started slow and steady. We have grown together, learned together, spent time apart, and I promise you… after all of our ups and downs… I can say with absolute certainty, this is exactly where I am meant to be.
When I began volunteering in the nonprofit sector – not to satisfy some arbitrary requirement – but because I had real reason to, I began to learn more about myself than I ever could in any classroom or job.
Like many university students, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I loved Anthropology, but did I want to become an Archaeologist? Did I want to leave life here behind to study remote cultures on the other side of the world? Could I spend my days in the lush green of Gombe forest like Dr. Jane Goodall? Maybe my future rested in linguistics… (I never did quite figure out what that life would look like).
I was lost, and so I started to volunteer at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology.
It was during my time at MOA that I found a friend and mentor, Katie, who didn’t see me as some bubbly ditz, but valued my intelligence, guided me, and gave me opportunities to learn and grow. It was in this space that I engaged in hours of conversation around colonization, art, history, politics, social inequities and, of course, the Big Bang Theory and our common love for Sheldon. It was here that I discovered the power and brilliance of tiny humans.
Community was a beautiful thing, and I wanted more of it. I began volunteering at the South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre, first as a tutor for kids from newcomer families, then in the youth development and breakfast programs. I will forever be grateful to Amanda and Kelly for guiding me, showing me what true empathy looks like, and working their asses off to make a difference in so many lives.
My experience working in community, coupled with what I was learning in my classrooms, made me acutely aware of the inequities deeply embedded in our cities. As someone with lived-experience of poverty, I questioned why I found myself on a healthy and stable path, while many of my peers, and those I volunteered to support, were finding it difficult to overcome the barriers that we all faced.
I decided that I needed to pursue a personal and professional journey that would work toward change for the future of my community. I found my purpose at SLNRC.
I enrolled in the Not-for-Profit Management program at Western University. I dove deeply into my classroom work, met incredible nonprofit leaders, learned about the network of change-makers in London and became completely and utterly infatuated with the nonprofit sector.
But like all great love stories, the honeymoon phase must come to an end at some point.
My life took a bit of a detour over the past few months. I decided to leave Pillar Nonprofit Network, an organization that I absolutely love, step away from the nonprofit sector after 10 years, and join a start-up tech company.
And like any rebound, it was fun while it lasted, but it really wasn’t for me.
Now this company wasn’t a bad company – in fact – I would suggest they may be a leading force for change in the for-profit sector… constantly exploring the question: what would it look like if we valued humans, art, technology and well-being?
But when it came down to it, it was just the same old story… it’s not you, it’s me.
And then came the questions and criticisms…
You know there are good for-profit companies too, right?
Don’t you feel resentful for working so hard, but not making a lot of money?
You could just volunteer on the side
You could find a company that has the same values as you
I feel like you should just try something different
I’m worried you’re going to get hurt again…
One of the things I discovered while working at Pillar Nonprofit Network is that there is magic happening in every sector. There are companies around the world getting their B-Corp Certification and raising the ethical bar. There are Social Enterprises rising up and proving every day that you can make money and make change. There are more and more Co-operatives building community values into their business and teaching younger generations what this looks like.
I have no doubt in my mind that there are a million companies out there whose values align with mine.
So why Nonprofit?
I spent the last few months really exploring what drew me to the sector in the first place.
Like any real, long-term relationship I have been given incredible opportunities and faced real challenges. We have fought and we have cried, we have celebrated and we have rejoiced. It’s not perfect, but I can’t help it.
It’s “that can’t eat, can’t sleep, reach for the stars over the fence, world series kind of love”.
I know I could find value-alignment in the for-profit sector. But it’s not just the work happening in the nonprofit sector that I am passionate about, it’s the sector itself.
I am fascinated by the ways in which the nonprofit sector reflects the past, present and future of our cultures.
I believe that this sector fully comprehends the inherent value of people and planet, and yet it can simultaneously (and generally unknowingly) perpetuate broken systems in the name of social and environmental good. These are the flaws I am desperate to unpack. These are the flaws I’m willing to live with.
I believe that this sector is a driving force for the future of our society – politically, economically, and culturally. There is genius here.
Social innovation and empathy are bursting at the seams in this place!
This sector is the intersection where tradition and progression coincide. Where religion and atheism work side-by-side. Where we can fight one another, but stand together to fight for us all.
This is where my unbridled fire is celebrated.
This is where I can wholly be myself – emotional, angry, intelligent, driven, creative. I can be both flawed and brilliant and continue to grow as a person and a professional.
Care, connection, community. It’s all here. It’s core to what we do.
And just like any relationship… when it’s right, it’s right.