Two years ago, BRPN/WHYR was struggling. A core group of dedicated volunteer-leaders was burning out after years of impressive and intense work building the station, and the future of the organization was uncertain.
At that time, I had recently returned to Baton Rouge. I officially rejoined the BRPN Board and was soon elected to replace our previous Chair who was stepping down to focus on other personal, professional, and community engagements. In addition to Board leadership and the governance-related duties that entailed, I was also fulfilling roles in communications, building management, volunteer engagement, and event organizing while holding down a full-time job and trying to deal with whatever else life was throwing at me. As you might imagine, I had way too much on my plate and a lot was going undone.
Over the past five years that I’ve been involved with the Baton Rouge Progressive Network and in my past two years as Board Chair, I’ve learned numerous lessons about unpaid work and leadership in a volunteer-run organization.
One of the largest lessons was personal. I had to learn how to balance my involvement with my paid work, chores and errands, time with loved ones, and meaningful self-care that supports my mental-emotional-physical health. This balance consists of setting boundaries; prioritizing and encouraging others to prioritize other areas of life; separating immediate and necessary tasks from longer-term ideals, wants and goals; and making peace with moving slowly while building our capacity to do more and do better. It also involved figuring out what kind of work I and others actually want to do through our involvement. Building management? So not my thing. Communications? Gimme!
In addition to balance, it became obvious that a healthy community culture is key to building a sustainable organization. Those of us who come together to collaborate on a cause are a community, and for communities to thrive requires establishing and adhering to positive community values and norms. Regardless of one’s passion for a cause, most of us are only willing to remain involved if our participation adds value to our lives – especially in cases of unpaid work. Where we don’t benefit financially, we must reap benefits from building quality relationships and feeling like our time is spent effectively creating positive change that wouldn’t have existed or occurred otherwise. Process and product both matter, and community culture should be an incentive, not a barrier, to civic engagement. This is why we’ve challenged ourselves to establish and maintain a safe, supportive, and empowering community space. In doing so, we’ve grown our volunteer base and are thriving. I look around at what we’ve built and sustained together, and I’m awe-struck. We have a ways to go, but we’re getting there.
Strengthening the network of progressives in BR is our cause. Our mission is to educate and unite our communities to advocate and establish progressive policy and social action.
Want to connect with other progressives in BR? Join us for our next Progressive Social in October.