If You Cannot Find a Local Community, DIY It!

By guest author Rebekah Jenkins, Director of Operations, Grow Pittsburgh. For more information about the Peer Operations Network, email Rebekah: rebekah@growpittsburgh.org.

“What you do today can improve all of your tomorrows”
Ralph Marston

I absolutely adore nonprofits. I love how they are mission-driven and are built on serving others. I’ve worked for nonprofits in some capacity for the last 18 years. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that many of these small organizations are not always fully staffed. Sometimes there’s not enough money for everything and people are forced to wear many hats. This much has been true in the previous positions I’ve held at nonprofits and it is still true in my current role as Director of Operations for Grow Pittsburgh.

Operations work has never been ‘sexy’ but it has always been vital to every organization, no matter the industry. Operations work is needed to keep programs work moving, but the level of support for operations staff never seems to be as accessible as it is for program-centered employees or high-level leadership. For a long time I searched for a support system…a group of individuals who do the same kind of work that I do, and who understand what it means to be a nonprofit operations professional. I had found support for the ‘accidental techie’ in me from the Bagels & Bytes group, sponsored by BCNM, but I was looking for the equivalent for my operations work. I looked around to see if someone else had started such a group – with little success. I searched and asked around and no one had heard of such a thing. Thus the Peer Operations Network was born.

I was really anxious about starting something like this. What if my request went ignored? What if I was the only one who was dealing with these issues? How did everyone else find their support system??

I started by sending messages on LinkedIn and Facebook, two easy and quick ways to reach real people. I figured it was an easy way to organize folks around this topic. When I first sent out the message only a few people responded. One of those people was Robert Young from Simpson McCrady Insurance. He responded with a desire to support this work, after having spent some of his career in nonprofits as well, and offered to help recruit and supply an important need for each of our meetings: FOOD.

Between the two of us we brainstormed and came up with some names and/or organizations that we thought would benefit from these meetings. Slowly, individuals in the area who held the roles of Operations Coordinator all the way up to Chief Operations Officer responded with a desire to hear more from other professionals doing operations work and how they helped their organizations run more efficiently.

We’ve now held several of these monthly meetings and our numbers keep growing! We’ve discussed a variety of topics such as how to pick an auditor, how to handle sensitive documents and best practices for storing documents in the cloud. I’ve learned so much and I find pleasure in knowing that there are other people in the Pittsburgh area who do what I do and have the same needs that I have. I am know thoroughly convinced that having the willingness to step out of your comfort zone any day can improve all of your tomorrows.