We asked readers about their experiences with romance in the nonprofit workplace. While we didn’t catch any juicy stories of workplace crushes or locking eyes over the cheese plate at the board meeting, we did hear loud and clear the common thread of passion — for their work and each other.
What brought them together keeps them together
Sharing common values and interests are key for any successful relationship, and it’s no different for those who meet in the nonprofit sector. Says Cathy Cooney, who met her husband Ned in 1997 when she worked at the Riverside Community Foundation and he was the head of the local Volunteer Center: "It’s wonderful to speak the same language, be concerned about the same issues, and be committed to the same goals."
Nelson Layag, Project Director at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, met his wife Maureen in 1991, right out of college when they both worked as case managers for The Choice Program in Baltimore. He says, "We have very fond and detailed memories of our work there and how it impacted our view of the world – something we continue to share."
For some, love for their work infuses their life as a couple. Celie O’Donnell and her husband of seven years met in late 1999 at a convening of young leaders in the arts that was part of an initiative to cultivate future leaders. "Not only did we meet each other, but we met a number of people who went on to become close friends," Celie states. "In fact, our wedding, albeit small, was made up pretty much entirely of artists and nonprofit workers!" If only the founders of that initiative knew how successful their program was at cultivating relationships.
Kevin Mercer met his wife in 2004 when, as Chair of RiverSides Foundation in Toronto, he led a three-hour tour for community members on stormwater low-impact development (LID) strategies. "A curious and determined group of 30 persons met up at 9:30 on a Sunday morning to hear my well-rehearsed mantra about urban stormwater LID, saving the Don River, and how individually they were the difference that needed to happen. Among the group of five or so who rallied to retrace our steps back into the neighborhood was an intensely knowledgeable blonde woman in shorts and a striped top who it turned out was both a lawyer and a family doctor; no wonder she asked such engaging questions. A week later I received an invitation to install a rainbarrel (hooray, action over education!) for the lawyer-doctor who talked politics as easily as she talked ecosystem protection. That walk and rainbarrel installation lead to dinner, tennis, a broken ankle, and many more dates until we agreed that the doctor and the environmentalist might just like to buy a house, start a family, and see where the walk of life leads us."
Doing what it takes
These nonprofit workers’ tendencies toward ultra-commitment and willingness to "go the extra mile" benefitted both the careers and relationships of the couples we spoke with. When Cathy Cooney first met Ned, he was everywhere – as the executive director of the Volunteer Center, as a leader in the local nonprofit sector, and at the very first Inland Empire Nonprofit Conference in 1997, which he also happened to be the founder of. When Cathy became the membership secretary for the Agency Executives Association in Riverside, guess who became the AEA President that same year? Yep, Ned. She says, "I heard Ned’s name so many times before I actually met him" and then started running into him just as much. It may be a small nonprofit world, but it sure sounds like destiny to us.
In the case of Nelson and Maureen Layag, they truly went extra miles to be together. Nelson says, "After meeting in 1991, I moved to California in 1992 to check it out.” He ended up staying in California and getting a job he really liked in late 1994 while Maureen moved to DC and then later to Spain. "Fast forward to 1995, she’s still living in Spain, I go on vacation and touch base with her there (we had a few correspondences via mail, yes actual stamped, in the envelope) and ended up falling in love. Fast forward to 1997, she crosses continents once again and moves to California and then a year later we’re married!" And by the way, that job Nelson took in 1994? It was with CompassPoint where he still works to this day and where he’s known as the staff member who has held the most number of jobs and titles within the organization: at last count 6. Now that’s a whole other story of commitment!
Nonprofit workers aren’t the only ones who meet cute through work and fall in love, but when romance coincides with actions to make the world a better place, these couples’ stories seem all the sweeter.