Leaving the Nest: Reflections of a VolunteerMatch Intern

This post also appears on Engaging Volunteers.

Editor’s Note: As our amazing interns transition out of their roles at VolunteerMatch, they’re reflecting on what brought them to work with us, what they’ve accomplished, and where they’re headed. We hope you’ll be as inspired as we have been by these “ultimate volunteers!”

Leaving the nestI’m Cris Bautista and I’m the Communications and Social Media Intern at VolunteerMatch. You’ve probably read my blog posts here about the importance of diversity and introverted volunteers.

Now my reign as intern is coming to an end, and I’ve been given the opportunity to write a bit about myself.

My Background

As a sophomore at Stanford, I began transitioning from female to male. As if figuring out my own identity wasn’t complicated enough, my school often didn’t meet my needs — professors called me the wrong name, housing was awkward, and it took two years to change my ID.

I started asking for things, and before I knew it I became an activist. I spoke with several student groups and administrators and even wrote a column senior year in order to help raise awareness and change school policies. Now Stanford is much more transgender-inclusive, and I’m glad I left that mark on my alma mater.

After graduation I soon realized that despite my school’s inadequacies, they were tiny obstacles compared to the rampant inequality that existed in the real world. I live in a society that assumes people like me don’t exist. Unemployment for transgender folks is twice the rate of the general population (four times the general population for people of color) and 44% of transgender people are underemployed.

When I logged onto Facebook or Twitter over my first cup of coffee each morning, I was bombarded with horrible things – transgender teens committing suicide, another transgender person murdered, the increase of hate crimes towards transgender women of color. I lived in a world where people like me were hurt and killed on a regular basis, and when we do survive, we are punished for it.

That was a world that I wasn’t okay with, and a world I was going to change.

I discovered nonprofits like the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Transgender Law Center – organizations whose missions matched mine. I realized the nonprofit world was my world.

I spent several months unsuccessfully applying to jobs. Then browsing through Idealist one day, I found an internship opportunity with VolunteerMatch. I applied, and to my surprise, I got it.

What I’ve Learned at VolunteerMatch

When I arrived to VolunteerMatch, I had the energy, but I didn’t know what I had to offer. Thanks to the people here, I have not only learned specific skills in social media and communications, but I’ve discovered more about myself, how I work and what I care about.

Every cause is connected.

When I took on this internship position at VolunteerMatch, I had the initial plan of learning what I needed to learn and then find an LGBT nonprofit to work for. But as I interacted with nonprofits and volunteers I came to care for other causes, as well. LGBT issues are still important to me, but I’ve become more aware of the intersections between different social needs.

LGBT issues don’t exist in a vacuum — they are entwined with immigration issues, challenges facing people with disabilities, women’s rights, reproductive rights, children’s rights, poverty as well as others. Through VolunteerMatch, I’ve realized that there are many causes that I am invested in, and I hope to work on these issues during my career.

Social media can catalyze social change.

Before VolunteerMatch, I always thought that Facebook was where all productivity goes to die. It had never occurred to me that there possibly was a connection between my borderline obsession with Facebook and nonprofits.

During my internship I discovered how technology is used to promote, support and connect with both nonprofits and volunteers. I was able to apply my experience with Facebook to other websites, from Twitter, to Pinterest, and even Google Adwords.

Each social media platform has a different set of tools and caters to different audiences — in particular, social media is necessary in order to connect with younger people, such as college students. I wrote about social media, like using blogs for volunteer recruitment and retention, and utilizing Facebook Pages for your organization (complete with a video tutorial featuring my awesome voice). I even tweeted at a conference once and made some great professional connections. Keeping an open mind and adapting to new social media is essential to maximizing nonprofit impact.

Marginalized communities, even when geographically spread out, can come together online and synchronize their voices and their cause. Nonprofits, by using social media, can reach more people than ever at little to no cost. The potential for social change through social media is so mind-numbingly exciting, and I get to be part of that.

Working for social justice is a marathon, not a sprint.

I can easily get excited about a project and work on it for hours on end. But more than once I’ve burned out from exhaustion.

While at VolunteerMatch I’ve learned about the nitty gritty practical stuff when working for a nonprofit. Yes, the drive and passion are necessary, but working for a nonprofit isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. When I come into the office, I have a set number of tasks I intend to complete for the day. I make sure I get those tasks done — no more, no less.

Many nonprofits are stretched thin, with employees working long hours in the office and even continuing to work when they get home. I know that I’ll feel the pressure to do that as well. But I also know that taking care of myself and achieving a healthy balance in life is important, so when I’m at the office, I feel energized enough to maximize my productivity.

I’ve discovered the importance of working at a steady, sustainable pace, which I know will help me when it comes to fighting for causes in the long run.

So What’s Next?

I’m glad I can add VolunteerMatch to my story. The people I’ve worked with have challenged me and pushed me to do my best, and for that I’m grateful. Now I can finally go out and help organizations achieve their mission.

After building up a couple years of experience working for nonprofits, I plan to get a masters in nonprofit management and support the marginalized of the LGBT community through empowerment programs, similar to the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative at the San Francisco LGBT Center. Eventually, I want to become a director for an LGBT community center somewhere in the United States.

Watch out, nonprofit world. This won’t be the last you hear from me.

If you want to contact me for job opportunities or just want to know me a little better, my email is cristopher.s.bautista@gmail.com. You can also follow me at @CristopherMarc and connect with me on LinkedIn.

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