Every good idea begins with a little inspiration and comes to fruition after a lot of perspiration. In 2008, a group of like-minded colleagues began to search for a way to bring mother-to-mother support to more women in the United States, and started to explore ways in which a new volunteer organization could meet the needs of today’s modern breastfeeding mother. They envisioned an organization that was welcoming of diversity, and sensitive to the many cultural, socioeconomic, and ethnic variations in American families. These women also wanted an organization that valued its volunteers and was open and transparent in its governance, while staying true to non-profit ideals of working toward its mission and being accountable to all stakeholders.
There was a strong desire to base the organization upon helping mothers to understand the natural, biological process of how breastfeeding works. By doing so, mothers can better understand how the choices they make influence breastfeeding success and outcomes. Many in the planning group were also interested in advocacy efforts to influence the cultural norm and promote breastfeeding as the normal way to feed and nurture children.
Making the Dream a Reality
Breastfeeding USA began in earnest in early 2010 when more volunteers were invited to join the planning group. The founders were soon surrounded by many very talented, opinionated, passionate, and committed women. Everyone was encouraged to do what they loved best or contribute what they could, when they could. In democratic fashion, important issues were voted on, such as the organization’s official name, whether or not to be a membership organization, and the mission statement. The founders discussed the values, the vision, and the expectations.
With a mission and vision firmly in place, the planning group took the next step to establish the formal legal structure of the organization. A steering committee was formed to work on organizational documents including bylaws, a code of ethics, and policies. The committee decided to incorporate in the state of New York, and then worked with an organization called CharityNet, which helped the committee to file articles of incorporation and prepare the documents required to file for federal non-profit status.
In November 2010, long-awaited news arrived from the State of New York that the Certificate of Incorporation had been approved, and the organization was legally and officially a non-profit organization. The organization had a mission, a purpose, an elected board of directors, committees, a Code of Ethics, a budget, bylaws and policy drafts, and a website in the rough. Now came the work of getting the nuts and bolts of a structure completed in order to introduce this new organization to the public. The launch was to be rolled out in phases. Emotions were running high as the organization approached the Facebook launch of Breastfeeding USA on Friday morning, December 10, 2010. The founders were excited to watch the Facebook page throughout that day as the numbers of ‘Likes’ steadily climbed, and people from all over the country wished for the organization's success.
It’s an understatement to say that there was a lot of burning of the midnight oil on both coasts of the USA prior to the public launch of the website. There were late-night (or very early morning) phone calls, emails flying fast, a few website glitches identified and fixed, and feverish writing and editing. The founding women were determined to have a typo-free and fully-functioning website. On the day of the website launch, many generous supporters joined the organization and made donations.
The Breastfeeding USA Treasurer at the time, Patty Jacobs, was thrilled to see the organization meet its first month’s membership goals: “Memberships came in from all over the country, coast to coast, and the growth of the organization in such a short time was a pleasure for the founding women to watch and experience. It was equally exciting to see names of authors and experts in the lactation community lending their support to Breastfeeding USA, several made offers to help on committees. Many people have written heartfelt messages in the comments box of the website checkout. An outstanding number of mothers asked about becoming Breastfeeding Counselors, and volunteered to help the organization.”
Breastfeeding USA Horizons, the membership e-newsletter, was first published in February 2011. A members-only discussion on Yahoo Groups was opened, with more than 50% of members joining within the first week. Work continued in the Education Committee to finalize the application criteria to become a Breastfeeding Counselor and develop the education components of the program. Breastfeeding USA volunteers were offered the first opportunities to apply to the education program. These volunteers provided feedback about the application process, the placement testing, and the Accelerated Education Course. In May 2011, Breastfeeding USA accredited the first group of Breastfeeding Counselors, and the first Community Chapter meeting was held in Pinole, California, in June of that year. On the 30th of that same month, Breastfeeding USA received its 501(c)(3) status designation from the Internal Revenue Service.
The Next Year
In July 2011, Breastfeeding USA closed the books and prepared financial reports at completion of its first fiscal year. More Breastfeeding Counselors were accredited and more Community Chapters opened to deliver services in local communities. Breastfeeding USA representatives hosted an exhibit table and reception at the ILCA (International Lactation Consultant Association) conference in San Diego, California, which generated much interest in the organization. In October, the voting members held the first official election for members of the Board of Directors, and in December the organization held its first Annual Meeting via conference call and screen-sharing technology. In early 2012, Breastfeeding USA accepted the first group of candidates without prior breastfeeding support experience into the Comprehensive Education Course. And in June, Breastfeeding USA held its first face-to-face Board of Directors meeting along with a reception for members, in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Breastfeeding USA has developed a strategic plan to focus volunteers on tasks to help expand its reach and further its mission. The organization expects to more than double the number of Breastfeeding Counselors in the near future and looks forward to having Community Chapters in all 50 states. The organization is working to improve the website and use social media in new ways to provide evidence-based information and support to more families. As a public benefit (non-profit) membership organization, Breastfeeding USA fosters a culture that values volunteer contributions and cooperative alliances, and continuously strives to nurture the organization’s community. Breastfeeding USA is still a new organization, but with its focus on the mission, inclusion of volunteers in decision making, and transparency within the organization's operations, expect that Breastfeeding USA will be making a big impact for breastfeeding mothers across the nation.