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Volunteering in a Virtual Office

In the past few days I’ve been enjoying an “embarrassment of riches.” Volunteers for F.E.A.S.T’s event on March 17 are busy coordinating the care and feeding of our guests. A volunteer maintaining our global calendar of ED events. Our Board of Directors and Advisors, all volunteers, signing up for shifts at our exhibitor table at ICED. The moderators of our popular online forums. I have folks checking in with me on many projects: it’s amazing. It’s also largely invisible to anyone but the one I’m talking with on that project. I’m at the control panel of a gorgeous mosaic of generosity.

Yet yesterday, in a conversation with leaders of another prominent nonprofit, I mentioned the “pre-contemplation” phase (a Motivational Interviewing term… we are so psych-oriented) of volunteering. I’ve noticed that parents and other volunteers don’t always feel confident at first raising their hand to offer to help. That something about the topic and community around eating disorders can make even eager advocates less confident, less empowered, more cautious.

I said this today to a new volunteer, and realized how much it says about our  dynamic, grassroots movement:

With this sort of fast-moving, many-location virtual office, it is often a matter of each person identifying where they want to jump in, and what their limits are. So please always jump in to offer your time and talents where you see a fit, and also make sure not to get too much on your plate: no one can see when someone else is available or overwhelmed!

Modern volunteering, in other words, is a lot like caregiving: we have to do both self-care and self-empowerment. We can’t wait for others to identify our talents: we have to step up and take charge. We can’t keep giving until someone else says stop: we have to maintain our own boundaries.
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  1. deenl

    Too true, Laura.

    In the past, I have jumped into volunteering without thinking carefully about where it fit in my life. And let everyone down. But I learned from my mistake. Before I joined the ATDT mod squad, I thought long and hard about how much I could give and what my boundaries were. I am happy to say that it has worked out beautifully. I am part of a team who, weirdly have never met, but who give love and support to each other online and with whom I can share things with that I can’t share with others IRL. This is in addition to the job satisfaction of the work of moderating the forum and giving back to the community that helped my son back to a happy life. I believe that a great part of why our team works so well is the respect and support we give each other. Following an accident in the family last year the rest of the team insisted that ‘Family comes first’ and I could come online as and when I felt able to. They got it. They understood that sometimes life gets difficult and supported me. I am continually intrigued that I have never worked as well in a team and yet I have never met them.

    I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with such a giving and vibrant community.

    Warm wishes,


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