One of the requirements for the “Introduction for Nonprofit Organizations” course that I am currently taking is that we all have to perform at least two hours of volunteer service for a nonprofit organization and write a blog post about our time of service. In his book Nonprofit Management: Principles and Practice, Michael J. Worth says that some people consider this type of “mandatory voluntarism” an oxymoron, in other words, if a person is being pressured or forced to perform a service, say in order to receive a grade, then it is not “volunteering” at all. (Worth, 2009, p. 198) However, I would disagree. Sometimes this type of required voluntarism may, like in my own case, simply be an opportunity to “kill two birds with one stone” as the old saying goes.
Although I am primarily a stay-at-home mom, I am also by profession a birth doula and a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and I am very passionate in my desire to ensure that mothers know how to make safe and healthy choices for themselves and their babies, before, during, and after birth. One of the ways I have found to increase awareness of these choices for women is by working with the Nashville Birth Network, which is a local chapter of the national nonprofit organization Birth Network National. Both of these organizations seek to increase awareness of safe, healthy choices by advocating Mother-Friendly care as defined by the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative. Nashville Birth Network (NBN) also participates in local baby fairs and conferences and holds monthly informational meetings with speakers discussing various topics of interest to expectant and new parents. I have been volunteering with NBN in various capacities and at various events for the past 2-3 years. I chose to use another NBN event as my class volunteer requirement, as well. So, even though I am expected to do this for a grade, it is something I have chosen to do because I care about the organization and the cause, whether I get the grade or not. In her Powerpoint presentation for this class, Dr. Kathy Maxwell lists a number of reasons why a person might volunteer, including mission meets personal values, desire to give back to community, improve the lives of others, advance a cause, meet personal needs and desires, and because they were asked. (Maxwell, 2010, p. 13) These are just a few, but they do well in describing my reasons for volunteering for NBN.
Two weeks ago, October 15-17, the Midwives Alliance of North American (MANA) was holding its annual conference in the Nashville area, and NBN had reserved a booth in the exhibit hall for the weekend. Set-up for the exhibit hall would begin on Thursday, the 15th, then the booth would need to be manned at various times throughout the day on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Megan Morton, the NBN Chapter Leader, had already sent out a call for volunteers. Since my children would be in school on Friday, and I had already volunteered to help with some of the preliminary organizational set-up work for MANA and the conference itself on Thursday, I figured my best time to be at the NBN booth would be Friday morning.
I arrived Friday morning at approximately 8:30 to make sure everything was set up and the booth/table was ready for the exhibit hall to be open from 9:00 a.m. – Noon. We had three other people scheduled to be there; however, one would only be with us for about an hour and the other two were very new to the group, so I was given the role of “manager” for this shift. Our goals were threefold, first, since we knew that having the Vanderbilt Nurse Midwifery program locally in Nashville meant there might be a higher number of local attendees than normal at a national conference, we wanted to promote the benefits of membership in NBN. Secondly, we also knew that there would be many out-of-town attendees who would not be interested in membership, so we distributed brochures detailing aspects of the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative and told them about Birth Network National. Thirdly, we wished to raise much-needed funds to support our local programs, so we had three different bumper stickers and a logo t-shirt that we were selling.
I am a naturally friendly, out-going person, so I found this to be a fun and productive morning. We actually ended up being there until 1:00 p.m. instead of Noon, because the organizers simply couldn’t seem to get the attendees to leave the exhibit hall! I was able to take an application and fee for one new membership and gave out two other applications. We distributed lots of brochures, and we sold 60-65 bumper stickers and several t-shirts. I was also able to talk with a number of midwives, aspiring midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, and other birth professionals about the Birth Network, what we do, our goals for our community, and how they can do the same in their areas.
When the organizers finally started threatening to lock the doors with people still inside the room, we finally put our things away, covered our table, and put the money in the lock box for the next shift. After talking with the NBN Chapter Leader at the end of the weekend, it turns out that we did end up receiving two new member applications and made over $300 on the items we were selling, so it was a successful event for the organization and the additional funds will enable NBN to continue with some of the other educational/informational events we have planned for the future.
As I said before, although this was a volunteer project that I was required to do for a grade in my class, it is also a volunteer project that I would have participated in anyway, with an organization to which I have already made a commitment. So, rather than being a coerced volunteer, perhaps I am somewhere in between what Worth calls a “spot volunteer, whose participation is casual and episodic” and a “regular volunteer” whose “assignments may have the formality of regular paying jobs.” (Worth, 2009, p. 198) No, I don’t do this with any true regularity, but my commitment to the Nashville Birth Network, and birthing women and their babies, is definitely more than casual! And, if you are interested in how women can have safer, better births and healthier babies, check out the Nashville Birth Network!
Maxwell, K. (2010) Introduction to Nonprofit Organizations — Week 7: Staff & Volunteers. [Powerpoint Slides]. Retrieved from https://elearn.rodp.org/d2l/orgTools/ouHome/ouHome.asp?ou=1733127.
Worth, M. J. (2009). Nonprofit Management: Principles and Practice. Los Angeles:
Sage Publications, Inc.