For Alice, Managing Director of akpsGlobal, leading successful volunteering initiatives is like designing a three-legged stool. 1) Does it make a difference to someone or something? 2) Does it enable personal and/or professional growth. 3) Is it fun?
The power of volunteerism
The power of volunteerism
I am the consummate volunteer. Even as I write this article, I am sitting in the Via 1 Panorama Lounge in Gare Centrale in Montreal, having spent the last few days as a judge at the International MBA Case Competition sponsored by the John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, my alma mater. It’s about giving back to the University where I was educated, and to all the students who are at the starting point of their careers.
Volunteerism played a large role in the professional success I have enjoyed over the years. Volunteering helped me build confidence to take on new challenges, manage people and tasks, communicate with persuasion and influence, understand team dynamics, and develop leadership skills. It forced me to step out of my comfort zone and explore other possibilities. Today, I volunteer on international committees with management consultants from Australia, India, South Africa, England and Italy. The richness of these connections and the opportunity to influence the management consulting profession worldwide is key to becoming recognized by my colleagues as an international management consultant committed to working globally.
But as a freshman in the 70s, without laptops, cell phones, ipods, virtual social media networks, not even voice mail, how was I going to meet people? Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink describes this deciding moment, when I walked through that door into the University newspaper to volunteer, as:
“a decision made very quickly … every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately” (Blink The Power of Thinking Without Thinking)
That is how it started. I learned new skills, strengthened my interests and met new people doing something I loved to do. Concordia University gave me the chance through student journalism and Student Council to explore new skills and abilities and then be recognized with a student volunteerism award. This was my first formal encounter with a rewards and recognition program!
By the time I left Montreal in 1983, I had been an Alumni Board member and Editor of the Alumni Journal. Seven years later in Ottawa, I was asked to start an Alumni chapter. That was the next “tipping point” for me. As inaugural Chapter chair, I was stepping outside my comfort zone once again to confront Ottawa. Together with a strong team of other alumni, we put on the most successful Alumni chapter launch!
In 1990, after qualifying for the CHRP, I started volunteering on the local Chapter Board, working my way to Chair. In fact, my very first client found me through the OHRPA Membership Directory and by the time I ran for the HRPAO Board in 2001, I was well known enough across the Province to handily win a seat at the board room table. In 1998, I received my CMC designation and within a few years, I joined the local CMC Chapter Council and eventually became Chair. Once again, I was able to leverage the volunteerism into business connections and increased business opportunities.
As I was building my business, volunteer teams which I led or on which I participated, were successful in building strong partnerships with universities and colleges, establishing the first scholarship fund for HR students at Carleton University, organizing the annual OHRPA Conference, contributing to the founding of the Vision Awards and advocating to government for the recognition of the CMC and CHRP designation. In return, I received recognition as a student leader and later as an alumna by Concordia University, as an HR professional by HRPA Ontario, as a management consultant by the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Ontario, and as a local HR volunteer by the Vision Award judges in 2001. The informal recognition by colleagues, students and clients who seek advice, counsel, mentoring and coaching has also been valuable to my personal and professional life.
What have I learned about volunteerism over the last 30 years?
1. Pick your cause: Find something that excites you. That you would always have energy for.
2. Find your team: You will need a team to help you achieve the goal.
3. Set goals: Be realistic, be clear and be organized.
4. Follow through: It is easy to place this on the back burner. But if you cannot continue, let it go.
5. Know when to move on and then move on and make room for new ideas and fresh eyes.
Bill Clinton in Giving - How Each of Us Can Change the World says:
“Seek out what each of us, “regardless of income, available time, age and skills,” can do to help, to give people a chance to live their dreams. – give whatever you can because everyone can give something” .
Nobody rolls up their sleeves faster, uses more elbow grease, and gets the job done better. Volunteers are adept at many things, especially ones the rest of us don’t get around to doing.
Volunteers can cram more into an hour with less effort. They can raise funds, lower costs, spread enthusiasm, reduce workloads, ease pressure and warm hearts. They are pros at soothing, cajoling, explaining, describing, convincing, and adapting.
Then when the work is finished, say “Thank You” to a volunteer and he or she is apt to say, instead of the perfunctory “You’re Welcome”: “The pleasure was all mine...!”…
Lightgivers (published in1987 by the Linkage Group Inc in Vernon Hills, Illinois)