Are you your biggest obstacle? How an Idealist got over her fear of blogging for social change

Guest blogger Stefanie Muldrow shares her journey of overcoming fear to begin blogging for social good.

“Just do it.”

I stared at my wedding photographer from across our sticky cafe table. She repeated herself: “Just–,” she paused, “do it.” A quick meeting to discuss contract details had become a heart-to-heart as Emily described using her savings after college graduation to pursue her dream and start a photography business.

I admired her for this boldness and confessed that since college I’d been dreaming of starting a blog that promotes social good and community engagement but I had never managed to begin. Her response of “Just do it” addressed the fears I’d been grappling with in three quick, convicted words. That evening, I signed up for a website and began—finally.

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Adapted from a photo by Flickr user Divine Harvester (Creative Commons).

I have always loved to volunteer but it was not until after a service trip to rural Honduras my senior year that I decided to make a bigger commitment to the greater good. Volunteering at a school and an orphanage there, I came face-to-face with poverty and tragedy. But I was also surrounded by hope from the community in spite of it all. Our final day as I departed down the dusty, dirt road to the airport I knew I wanted to be part of that hope somehow.

That feeling only intensified after I graduated a few months later. I searched for a way to use my skill—writing—to inspire hope. I settled on a blog as the medium for this. By writing I felt I could raise awareness about the causes I felt strongly about—education, poverty, and youth issues—and also give visibility to those who are doing things, big and small, to improve the world.

But as I developed the idea in my head, I began to doubt myself: When would I find time? Am I qualified? What if it’s terrible and I fail miserably? Would I even make a difference? It took three bold words from a near stranger two years after the trip to silence my fears. Now that my blog is up and running, I find it so fulfilling and I wish I’d began much earlier.

What I’ve learned along the way

1. The closest thing to the “perfect time” to start is now.
You will make time if it’s something you feel strongly about. One of my largest obstacles was waiting for the “right time” to begin. “Summer break” became “after I graduate from college” which became “when I find a job.” Soon I realized that if I wanted to start before I retired it was now or never. When I finally began blogging I could not wait to get home from work and start on material for the next post.

2. Passion will fill in gaps in expertise.
I wanted my blog to address a variety of issues but I was not an expert; all I had was volunteer experience and a fire for a number of causes. However, when research for a post would lead me to an interesting and unfamiliar concept or movement, I would fervently investigate it. I believe that my passion to make a difference was (and still is) the force behind my thirst for knowledge.

3. Take yourself seriously (and others will too).
The first few months of setting up my blog I kept it a secret. I worked hard on posts that no one even read. It took time for me to realize that if I wanted to make a difference I was the first one that needed to believe that my efforts to make a difference were worth supporting. I started letting my friends, family and coworkers know about what I was trying to achieve. Now they are my best scouts for new post ideas.

4. You are not alone.
After creating a Twitter account for my blog, I learned that there were many others like me who were using similar websites to make a difference. I have had more success networking on Twitter than I have had at all of my college’s career center networking events combined. As soon as you can, find and connect with people who share a common goal. Their support will help you remember that your efforts are part of something bigger and will give you vitality when the going gets tough.

So you have an idea? Great! Don’t let your fear control you for another second. Just do it.

stefanie bio pic resizedStefanie is a Washington, D.C. -based writer passionate about encouraging others to start making a difference. At her blog, The Silver Lining Chronicles, she writes about community engagement, social good and philanthropy. When she’s not writing, she enjoys volunteering, gardening, and photography. Follow Stefanie on Twitter @_BeyondtheCloud.

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Introducing our new blog editor, Allison Jones!

Hi, everyone. I’m Julia Smith and I’ve been lucky to edit this blog over the past few years, working with our team to shed light on everything from idea-sharing potlucks to New Year’s resolutions for job seekers to tips for making the most of any conference you attend. Now it’s time for me to hand over the reins, and I’m thrilled to welcome Allison Jones,  a longtime member of our community and one of the newest members of our staff. Read on to meet the communications champ who will be bringing you all kinds of blog goodness from now on!

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Welcome Allison, our new blog editor!

Q. When did you first know you wanted to have a career with social impact? Is there a moment in your life you can pinpoint?

A. In high school I lived in a poor part of Brooklyn but attended school in a wealthy part of Brooklyn. The differences were shocking and upsetting; who knew the impact a zip code could have on someone’s opportunities? I loved my time in school yet always thought, “Why can’t my brothers and sisters at home have this too?” And so began my commitment to education equality.

Q. Almost all of your jobs have been at nonprofits, right? What have you found most challenging and most rewarding about working in the nonprofit sector?

A. Yep (aside from an after-school gig I had in high school where I worked in the home office of a retired investment banker!). I have been a nonprofiteer for much of my career. I arrived at the sector by cause: I have always been passionate about education equality and this passion somewhat naturally led me to the nonprofit sector. I stayed in the sector because of community: nothing beats having a network of nonprofit geeks and folks audacious enough to think they can change the world.

I am also excited by the changes in the sector. There is so much movement and conversation around what change looks like, what role nonprofits play in facilitating that change, and the potential of cross-sector work to bring that change to life.

Q. Do you remember when you first set up your old blog, Entry Level Living? What prompted that and how did it feel to click “publish” on your first post?

A. I started Entry Level Living because I wanted to write about my experiences as a nonprofit newbie.  It was exciting but I honestly didn’t think anyone would read it. I had been blogging on LiveJournal and Yahoo!360 (service was shut down a few years ago – am I dating myself?) and the communities I built there were mainly of classmates and other casual/personal bloggers. I assumed my current blog would be the same thing; to be honest I was (and still am!) surprised by its growth since I started in 2007.

Q. Your blog has morphed over the years and is no longer quite so “entry level.” Can you share a little about how and when you decided to rebrand?

A. When Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris were writing their book How to be a Nonprofit Rockstar they wanted to include my blog and a post I had written. When they checked in to confirm how my blog and name should be credited, it dawned on me that while I was sharing advice on starting a career, I wanted my blog to reflect my professional growth; I wasn’t entry level anymore and had a growing network of peers which lead to a variety of experiences in what it means to make a difference. I didn’t want a huge departure from my original approach but I did want to tighten up my writing and vision, hence my tagline “Helping Millennials put their passions into practice.” Although simple, it acts as a launching pad when producing content. Some of the most popular posts since then have covered the role of college in your career, social entrepreneurship, and nitty gritty job searching tips.

Q. In this new role at Idealist you’re going to be eating and breathing a lot of online networking. Can you share one of your social media “lightbulb moments”?

A. I have had many lightbulb moments, most of them offline, in particular working with parents and students in schools. My work in education has taught me the importance of the phrase “meet people where they are.” Though the phrase is often used to encourage people to adopt social media to connect with new staff, donors, allies, and organizations, it is really reminding us to put people first and to communicate with them on their terms, online and offline.

Q. What made you decide to apply for this job? What are you most excited about now that orientation is underway?

A. [Idealist’s Executive Director] Ami once called me an “accidental techie”: I kind of fell into social media and technology through my love of blogging and the excitement I feel from connecting with people and learning about the world around me. But there is something amazing about being able to focus intently on how social media and tech are being used to make the world a better place and being able to throw myself into that conversation. And I just love Idealist.org. Seriously – the service it provides, the message it sends, and its plan for world domination really appeal to me. Plus, I truly believe that writing and editing are art forms. You can make magic happen with words.

See why we feel lucky to have Allison on board? Leave a comment below to welcome her! She’ll also be the human behind our Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn, and Pinterest accounts, so feel free to introduce yourself.

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Is "social media" on your resume?

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Image via Gavin Llewellyn, http://www.onetoomanymornings.co.uk/ (Flickr/Creative Commons).

12.12.2011: The bullets in this post have been updated to include the percentages of social media jobs (out of all jobs posted on Idealist) each year.

Fellow Idealist Jeremy and I recently ran a little test to see how frequently “social media” appears in job postings on our site. Here’s how many listings have included the phrase over the last several years:

  • 2007: 25 jobs, o.01 percent.
  • 2008: 125 jobs, 0.27 percent.
  • 2009: 507 jobs, 1.67 percent.
  • 2010: 2,115 jobs, 4.98 percent.
  • And in 2011 so far, 3,467 jobs, or 7.7 percent of all jobs posted this year.

Curious what the very first jobs to include “social media” were? Reaching all the way back to November 2006, we found four jobs from three trailblazing organizations: a Content Producer at WGBH Educational Foundation; a Social Network Designer-Manager at Games for Change; and two web developer jobs at Feminist Majority Foundation.

When I was hired in 2006, there are at least a few people on staff who were creating social media, but I don’t think they would have called it that. For example, our editor Eric checked all of the copy on our site, but he also served as a curator of news about the nonprofit sector and posted articles from around the world every day. He was blogging before we had a blog. Now social media weaves naturally into the jobs of many folks here, whether they’re writing emails for multi-channel campaigns, blogging here, or using social networking sites to learn about and grow our community.

Questions for you, dear readers:

  • What has this evolution looked like at your organization? Is your organization so new that the majority of your work takes place through social media, or have you spent a lot of time convincing people of the value of this type of engagement?
  • Are blogs, social networking sites, and other social media included in your job description? How much of your work time do they consume?
  • If you’re a hiring manager posting one of those 3,400+ jobs, what matters to you with regard to filling those roles? How do the best candidates showcase their experience in this area?

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Today’s random picks: From blog design in Ghana to market analysis in Guatemala

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From One Laptop per Child (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Every day, hundreds of new listings are added to our site. Here’s a small sampling of the types of organizations, opportunities, and events you can connect with.

Today’s areas of focus: Claims and Examining, and Communications Access and Infrastructure

Organization: AMVETS (American Veterans)
Location: Lanham, Maryland, United States
In their own words: “AMVETS is one of the most respected volunteer-led organizations in the country that provides, not only support for veterans and the active military in porcuring their earned entitlements, but also community services that enhance the quality of life for this nation’s citizens.”

Job: Billing Assistant
Organization: Shema Kolainu
In their own words: “Shema Kolainu is a nonprofit school and center for children with autism utilizing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) on a one child to one teacher ratio.”

Volunteer Opportunity: Blog designer & social networking sites coordinator
Organization: Free World Foundation
In their own words: “The vision of the “FOUNDATION” is to strive for a society where the fundamental human rights of every individual are respected, where the rule of law reigns supreme, good governance is guaranteed and adequate measures are put in place to ensure security & peace building.”

Internship: Market Analyst Internship-GUATEMALA
Organization: Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG)
In their own words: “Through a combination of business incubation, education, training, and outreach, the AIDG helps individuals and communities gain access to technology that will improve their lives.”

Event: Donation-based lunchtime yoga benefitting microfinance
Organization: ACCION USA
In their own words: “Come and join us at our New York office for Micro-Yoga every Tuesday, presented by Erica Dorn, trained yoga instructor and ACCION USA employee!”

Search hundreds of other listings filed under Claims and Examining or Communications Access and Infrastructure, or post an opportunity of your own.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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