Two weeks ago, I had the absolute joy and privilege to attend a webinar entitled “How Nonprofits Work.” It was the second of seven free, phenomenal webinars being put together by Joshua Steinberg. This “Leaders of the Future” series, which concludes on July 20, is providing incredible content to introduce aspiring Jewish lay leaders with disabilities, like me, to the topics and skills we need to lead as volunteers and professionals in nonprofit organizations. As of yesterday, the series had had fantastic sessions on individual giving and making an organization or individual truly shine on social media. Yesterday’s session, which demystified the sometimes daunting world of foundations, was so informative that I’m going to write about it for next week. Remember, if you’ve missed any of these webinars, they are available for free on the RespectAbility website, now and forever.
To pique your interest, let me tell you more about this one. There were three speakers. Erica Goldman is the Director of Program and Operations at JPRO Network. Tamar Davis is the CEO of Gateways: Access to Jewish Inclusion who happens to be Deaf. And Michelle Friedman is the Board Chair of Keshet who happens to be blind. They each have unique perspectives and experiences that made this webinar so great. The goal was to look at how one operates and moves around the nonprofit world, whether serving on a board or helping on a program.
Perhaps one of my most important takeaways is that every member of an organization is essential to how a nonprofit runs. The panelists understood that people might feel that their contributions are insufficient or ineffective. But they stressed that such feelings couldn’t be more wrong. Every individual can contribute a unique skillset to the organization that they are a part of, and this approach allows for the best, most well-rounded organization to exist. It also empowers the organization to reach as many people as possible. Tamar Davis said that “you do not find non-passionate people in a nonprofit!”
Another point that the panel emphasized was the importance of connections. Every individual has their own network and connections, and bringing them together can create a larger, more intersectional web of relationships, adding tremendous value to a nonprofit organization. From volunteers to potential board members, these connections are what facilitate future leaders.
After telling us about the different roles of boards, staff and volunteers, our panelists gave the most important advice for those of us who want to follow our passion and contribute to a nonprofit. It starts with interest in a cause, and then finding someone to connect you. Continued involvement will likely eventually lead to a board position, if you want one, like it did for Michelle. It may even allow you to transition from the board to a professional role, like it did for Tamar.
Michelle used her path as an example. Starting out as a young mother with a disability, she did not have all day to dedicate to an organization. But that did not stop her from volunteering. Eventually, she served on more than half a dozen boards, and ultimately the Chair of the board for Keshet in Chicago.
I am truly grateful for the experience of participating in this series, and I think you will be too. While you can watch the old content online, it can’t quite match the thrill of asking questions in real time of our amazing panelists. Ensure you don’t miss out and register for the rest of the series!