Through her work with high school students, Robin Howe saw that it can be difficult for students to find volunteer opportunities that fit within their interests, schedules and capabilities. From that problem, the idea for Community Match was born. Community Match is a website where high school students can browse for volunteer opportunities specifically tailored to their needs. As one of our Causeway Challenge winners, Robin received $2,500 to implement her project. However, as any entrepreneur knows, funding is only a small part of the process. We've asked Robin to elaborate on some of her successes and roadblocks, in hopes that we can all learn from her experience.
When Causeway announced its first Challenge, I knew I had to try for the grant. For years, I have had a pet peeve about high school students’ access to community service opportunities. Instead of continuing to struggle with the current situation, the grant might allow me to make a change for our community. I went gangbusters to win the $2500 grant. I researched and cited data from other cities and sought media support. I looked with anticipation and high hopes to the mid-September Challenge notification day.
I got word that my project, Community Match, won a grant and I was thrilled. I literally jumped up and down (not at all common for me these days, now that I’m in my fifties) and shouted,” I won, I won!” when I opened Causeway’s good news email.
Given my firmly type A personality, I jumped right in to make Community Match a reality for Chattanooga. I met my three week deadline by the end of week one. As one might expect from a worker bee, I reveled in the project, making notes, making phone calls and loving the chance to do something outside of my everyday job.
Then, the bottom fell out. Ironically, it turned out that getting funding for Community Match was the easy part. Implementing the project has been filled with frustration and set backs; all good learning experiences, but not what I expected.
Several people suggested that I partner with existing organizations. And I admit that I was (and still am) a bit afraid to give up my autonomy. I designed Community Match the way I wanted and I loved my project as it was. I decided to consider the option of partnering in hopes that it would make the project better and more sustainable. It turns out that, while nearly everyone advocates collaboration, agreeing to consider working within larger, already developed systems stopped my project in its tracks. I’ve learned a number of lessons here. First, I’ve learned that large, traditional organizations often work at a much slower pace and require that several levels of people get involved. Second, I’ve learned that small projects, even if they are innovative and likely to be impactful, are often overlooked by larger, more established organizations. Third, I’ve learned that collaboration will likely not expedite getting a project off the ground.
I guess we all learn these lessons about collaboration while in school whether it be through group projects or working as a student with administrators. We continue to learn these lessons in the workplace when we rely on co-workers for a component of a project or program. Partnership and collaboration often tests our patience, no matter how much experience we have or how good our intentions are.
I am determined to stick with Community Match because it could benefit our city, our nonprofits and our youth, who struggle to find community service work that means something to them. I’ll keep you posted on how we move Community Match forward, roadblocks, successes and failures alike… hoping that others will learn from my experience to make their projects stronger.