Cheesy initiation rites have value for nonprofits

22 Jan

After all these years of community building, I suddenly shamefully realize that I am, in many ways, not a joiner of groups!   Maybe it comes from being an introvert: shared songs, mottoes, secret handshakes, sleepover retreats– all that has made me cringe all the way back to the days of Girl Scouts.

But that’s before I joined a local service organization, last fall, dragged in by a persistent good friend whose judgment I trusted over my own discomfort about the fit. At the first meeting, I was welcomed with a brief installation ceremony for new members; a cheesy little speech about shared values, a logo pin, and a request to introduce myself with a little background. I have to admit that my chilly little heart warmed as I felt like I belonged and welcomed. Since that time, I’ve found myself volunteering to do several things outside of meetings, and even leading a new project Happily!

I don’t want to give the impression that I won’t volunteer my time for worthy causes: in fact, I’ve served on many, many Boards of Directors doing “serious work”, which gave me justification for overcoming my reticence about joining groups!  The experience of joining a new Board, however, has too often been less than welcoming, and as a result, less than effective in encouraging my immediate, active engagement.

I remember attending my first meeting for one new Board where I was never introduced, even though it was only a group of ten.  This particular group spoke in so many acronyms that I barely understood what they were talking about and certainly hesitated to volunteer.  I’ve experienced new Board member orientations focused solely on policies and procedures, with little talk of shared values and operating principles. Sometimes, my orientation has even included warnings about the difficult people I’d soon be meeting.  And once, when I was ill and missed two monthly meetings in a row without notification, no one contacted me to see whether I’d be back. In all these cases, I had to overcome my feelings of disconnectedness on my own.

Appropriate orientation, intentional welcoming, clear and shared values, personal connections– all of these things matter to volunteers, even experienced ones. Being welcomed into Soroptimist International of Eugene really opened my eyes to the value of formal welcoming ceremonies that “serious” groups may disregard as silly. The cheesiness is in fact nourishing!