I started writing this post on October 14. It’s now November 8. This is somewhat indicative of what this post is all about – the juggling act of helping to run a not-for-profit (aka passion project) whilst holding down a full-time job and finding that work-life balance.
It’s the end of Thanksgiving weekend. Tomorrow morning I’ll get back into my weekly routine (albeit a short week – yay!). It’s a Tuesday tomorrow as well, which means I’ll be up early and at the gym to get in a workout before I traipse off to the office and fire up the computer to check on what emails have landed in my inbox while I was away.
In an ideal world, I would be walking into the office I share with my DIA team members and we’d be chatting about how much food we ate, how lovely the weather was, and sighing over the fact that it’s mid-October and winter will be here soon. But in reality, I’ll be sitting down at my desk at my actual full-time job as a graphic designer (with my fantastic colleagues!).
I know what you’re starting to think, so let me clarify something right now: my ideal world does not mean that I do not like my real world. I quite enjoy the design world I occupy and the team I work with is very supportive of my work at DIA.
I say “ideal world” because having two jobs (one full-time and one kinda-sorta-part-time-when-I-can-fit-it-in) is taxing. During the day, I’m a mild-mannered graphic designer solving the world’s branding issues, one vector line at a time. By night, I try and catch up with the administrative world of this little not-for-profit I co-founded.
I like it. I like it a lot. I love the work that we’re doing as an organization and the impact it’s having on the people, slowly, but surely. Everyone loves the name. They love the mission and vision for the organization. They love the logo because we could actually be a government agency – in reality or in the world of Harry Potter. What we’re doing, in my eyes, is unique, and different, and good in the world.
And I really wish I could do it full time.
When we got our first grant for The Stories of Us, there was a new level of responsibility that came with managing the project. It was no longer something that we could test and try out whenever Jenn and I had time. This was a legit project that the federal government was interested in and we had three years of funding to really put some work into it.
I had to quickly brush up on my accounting skills and we as an organization had to put policies and procedures in place. We had to open a real bank account and I had quarterly reports to produce for the Board to review. There was financial reporting to the government that I was responsible for. We had to hire a bookkeeper and figure out how Quickbooks worked. On top of that, I had to train our new Program Manager on what this project was all about and help set up the initial stepping stones to launch this project into the world while Jenn was on maternity leave.
Thankfully I have a bit of a background of working in the not-for-profit sector many moons ago so this isn’t completely new to me. Math and I are not the best of friends (the accounting bit was a bit of a steep learning curve) so I have sat at my desk at home, or on the couch with The Office playing in the background desperately trying to figure out where that $142 went that I swear was there a moment ago.
A lot of my nights over the past two years have consisted of having dinner with my partner, watching an hour of TV, and then sitting down on the couch or at the desk and going through my DIA to do list. It’s difficult to get anything done during the day because I’m usually on deadline for a client or feel guilty for taking time out of my working day to do this side project. I don’t have any timesheets to fill out at work, and I know that my colleagues are fine with me taking a bit of time here and there to pop out to a meeting, or take a phone call and what not – it all comes out in the wash at the end of the day. But I still feel a bit guilty.
On the other hand, I feel guilty for not getting things done on time for my DIA teammates. It’s a catch 22. They’re very patient with me, thankfully, and I want to be able to help them as quickly as I can. But sometimes my brain just needs a moment of quiet and so I come home and I watch 2 episodes of whatever show I’m currently into and leave the DIA work for tomorrow. This is especially frustrating when I have to report our finances back to the government and I don’t have the numbers ready to go because I haven’t necessarily figured out the best way to input the accounting for me to be able to understand where we are (although that has recently been rectified I’m happy to say). When we had our first audit, I had to take a day off work and switch gears to try and answer questions about our spending from 8 months ago. It was a frustrating experience on my end because while I thought I had everything pretty sorted, it became clear that I did not. This prompted me to spend the next week creating a new budget in Google Sheets and really hammering out a system that made sense in my head.
All this while also trying to have a social life so that I’m not constantly stuck in front of a computer.
My partner is living in Michigan at the moment while he works on his PhD. In a way this gives me more time to focus on the work I need to complete for DIA. It’s still a struggle to sometimes motivate myself to get work done. There are some big things I need to work on (like fundraising, sponsorship, getting a few of our other projects off the ground). And the kind of work I want to be doing with the organization, the design-thinking work that grounds the work we do, the getting-out-into-the-community-and-making-change work … that has to take a back seat for me, in a way, until we are self-sufficient.
It’s frustrating because I see such amazing potential in the organization and our team. We have a lot to give, a lot to learn, and a lot to work on. We just need the time and resources. This is the same rhetoric I hear from a lot of not-for-profit organizations, so we aren’t unique or alone in this struggle. It’s the nature of the work in Canada (for better or worse).
In my ideal world, I would be able to focus solely on the organization and help it grow to the point where we had an office that I could walk into after working out at the gym. That’s the goal for me. I know it will happen one day. But in the meantime, I’ll be spending my free evenings at home making sure 2+2 really does equal 4 in my spreadsheet.