Over the last sixteen months, I’ve been working with a great group of people to build and nurture a new project: the Genderplayful Marketplace. This online marketplace celebrates diversity in gender presentation and body types. It rallies a community to work collectively on the question, “How can we build wardrobes we love that fit our bodies well?”, and it offers extra encouraging support for trans, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming folks (an identity set that we define very broadly). The project was inspired by what we’ve learned in our work at Genderfork.com.
It started with a fundraiser last year. I promised that we would build the marketplace if we raised $5,000, and we received such a strong show of support that our final total was $8,000. Since then, we’ve just been chugging along, step by step, trying to stay focused on the goal and not get discouraged by the sheer size of it (and all of those damned possibilities that would make it so much better except when they really just make it feel more daunting).
For the first six months, we focused on the tech foundation — WordPress Multi-Site, Buddypress, and Marketpress, coupled with Linode and Springloops — and we worked with designers to build our visual experience. Then we pulled in a bigger volunteer staff to jumpstart our social media presence (meet our Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook accounts — each building their own collage of creativity, curiosity, and community style). We also assigned volunteers to help get our forums going, set our first vendors up with storefronts, develop a community blog, curate some featured content, keep the tech development moving forward, and keep our newfound team happy and healthy.
On January 15th of this year — one year after we finished our fundraiser — we opened our creaky doors to community members who’d supported us along the way for a Private Beta. And now we’re cleaning up, tweaking settings, building missing features, helping vendors settle in, and populating the site with the kind of culture we believe in.
Slowly, but surely. But slowly. Sure.
The Laws of Volunteerism
Eight grand is enough money to deal with legal and financial requirements, to cover tech account costs, and to hire the few services that you can’t easily request from volunteers. (It also buys t-shirts, which were part of the deal for getting community funds in the first place.)
It is not, however, enough money to also hire a staff or fund a professional web development job. And that’s fine — we didn’t ask for that level of support to begin with — but it does mean that everything we do is subject to the Laws of Volunteerism.
These laws, as far as I can tell, are as follows:
Law #1: Our predicted involvement will be bigger than our actual involvement. The energy and excitement that we have at the beginning of a project is rarely sustainable at its peak levels, and the actual time we can invest in a project over the long-term needs to have a realistic bare minimum.
Law #2: We will mostly do things that are either urgent or methodical. Give us a fire to put out, and we’ll jump on it. Give us task to repeat every week, and we’ll turn it into a habit. But ask us to think about something new every day without attaching a major deadline to it? Yeah, sorry, we’d love to, but maybe you can find someone else to jump in…
Law #3: We need to see that our work is helping others in order to keep doing it. I think the single biggest mistake we made in the first year of Genderplayful was not creating a smaller version of the marketplace that we could release much sooner. As volunteers, we are fueled by the positive impact we have on others, and we lose momentum when that’s harder to see.
Law #4: Real life will get in the way. Job stress, moving, breakups, illness, overwhelm, family issues, school, travel, projects, personal transitions, and other forms of Real Life don’t stop knocking. Ever. Volunteering is a commitment, but it’s a rather secondary commitment to, say, staying alive and healthy, and we have to remain flexible as our own availabilities change.
All of these things have happened to all of us on the project, and they hit our tech team and our organizing/leadership energy the hardest. Which leads me to…
SHAMELESS PLUG! If anyone would like to offer their reinforcements in these areas, please first consider the Laws listed above, and then fill out our “SEND IN THE REINFORCEMENTS!” form with how you’d like to help.
Dreaming vs. Doing
When it comes down to it, we’re still walking and still building, even if it’s messy, slow, and quiet in the darkness some nights.
Ideas are fun and cheap, and Great Ideas are worth doing. Doing, however, requires pushing through every form of resistance your brain can come up with, withstanding the stretch of real timelines, and ignoring all those new fun cheap ideas that show up every morning and tempt you to do something new. Doing a Great Idea (as opposed to just any old idea) helps with that last part, but it still takes force, conviction, and faith to get to the finish line.
And we’re getting there. Soon*, you’ll be able to see and experience all the wonders (or at least the highest priority ones) that we’ve been imagining all along the way.
* “Soon” implies no specific timeline. (We know better than that by now.)