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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

The Intangible Rewards of Nonprofit Work

As a member of the board of YNPN (Young Nonprofit Professionals Network) Phoenix, I have been fortunate to cross paths with some extraordinary emerging leaders, facilitators, mentors, and nonprofit sector thought leaders. As YNPN Phoenix's annual member retreat approaches, I am reminded of a powerful experience from last year's retreat that still resounds with me today.

At the 2010 retreat, we benefited from the guidance of two fantastic facilitators in Raquel Gutiérrez and Cassandra O'Neill, who asked participants to bring with them an object that represented the reason they became involved with the nonprofit sector. As we sat in a circle on that first evening and shared the stories of our objects, I was struck by the themes that emerged as to how and why each of us had pursued work or volunteer service in the nonprofit sector, and also to what kept us committed to that service. At the conclusion of hearing everyone's stories, we were each asked to pick up an object that represented the story that had resonated with us the most and to silently return it to its owner.

Several people were inspired by passion for a cause that sprang from personal experience. Take me, for example — my object was a tin whistle (a more portable representation of my primary instrument, the flute). I grew up in a musical family, was fortunate enough to attend schools with excellent arts programs, majored in music in college, and still perform frequently today. I have had such a positive experience with music that I have been driven to share its joys with as many people as possible. In that pursuit, I have worked for a range of nonprofit organizations focused on music, including an orchestra, a music education organization, and now the Musical Instrument Museum here in Phoenix. I believe deeply in the work that each of these organizations undertakes, and feel extremely fortunate to be able to earn a living doing something that also brings me fulfillment.

Many others in the group shared that they were touched when they discovered or became aware of a problem that needed to be solved and felt called to be a part of the solution. And a large number had parents or other family members who set an example of service or volunteerism that they grew up to emulate.

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Each story represented a very personal journey that inspired the person on their path to nonprofit service, but what struck me the most was that most people emphasized the intangible benefits that nonprofit work provides to those who pursue it. From the camaraderie that comes from working toward a common cause to the rewards of seeing your efforts directly impact those in need, nonprofit work is special in its ability to engage both the mind and the heart.

Personally, these intangible rewards have become so important to me that I couldn't imagine pursuing work that did not offer them.

What has been your experience? What path led you to nonprofit work or volunteerism, what are the intangible rewards you have experienced, and how important are they to you?

Maureen Baker is the Manager for Individual Giving at the Musical Instrument Museum, serves on the board of YNPN Phoenix and on the core team of Emerging Arts Leaders of Phoenix, is a co-founder of Classical Revolution PHX, and is a member of Valley Leadership Class 33. Maureen is also flutist and co-founder of the Siroccan Winds wind quintet and a member of the soprano section of Scottsdale Choral Artists.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog