Discovering the Virtues of Volunteering

The reasons for volunteering are mostly personal, but generally the time, treasures and talent contributions can yield benefits in the following areas:

  1. Helping an organization or cause one believes in and/or has been affected by in their lives or within their families.
  2. Expanding one’s professional and/or personal social network in a community.
  3. Fulfilling a requirement for a leadership development program.

Just as the motivations can vary for allocating one’s time for pro bono efforts, the types of volunteering are more than we might realize at times. Similar to the spectrum of nonprofit organizations, volunteering activities and roles can take on many shapes while constituting a valued portion of an organization’s fundraising, event management, educational programs or health issues awareness initiatives.

  • Personal activities – Volunteering at a church, school, environmental association or arts organization.
  • Professional activities – Mentoring students in a career field, serving as a judge for award panels for local professional associations or rating candidates for continuing education certifications.
  • Social activities – Expanding one’s network by serving as a greeter, usher or gate monitor at a fundraiser, race, grand opening or social extravaganza.

If you find yourself in a volunteer duty that isn’t particularly prominent or exciting, you can still absorb a lot of interesting practical knowledge on logistics and efficiencies from people working security, delivering ice and staffing an entrance. When assigned a role such as checking people’s tickets or VIP passes and it sounds like a tedious assignment, embrace the opportunity that you will be speaking and seeing everyone who enters that area. This could lead to meeting business leaders, mentors or just some new contacts in different industries of your community.

After these experiences, some of which were boring and solitary at times depending on the time and location, I felt some personal satisfaction having turned out,  met some new people and offered my assistance as a “utility fielder” wherever needed.

At some events that I signed up for and showed up on time, they haven’t always been ready or fully organized in delegating the assignments. While these instances happen and can be frustrating for someone who keeps a punctual schedule, I always offer this up to the organizer, “Look, you have me for the next four hours, so please just let me know what you need and I’ll get it done.”

Whether you want to congregate at the front of a festival beer tent as a social butterfly or you don’t mind grabbing a clipboard, hammer or two-way radio, consider the merits that different volunteering situations may present for yourself. You don’t have to just stand there to get that free T-shirt or earn those points for a project or certification, be gregarious and get your hands dirty if necessary.

IABC Heritage Chapter Regional Conference

Two weeks ago I attended the IABC Heritage Chapter’s Regional Conference in Indianapolis. This is my sixth year as an IABC member, but there is no chapter in Buffalo, so I applied for a scholarship to attend and share some key learnings through my blog. It was a session-packed two-day conference with about 150 attendees, mostly from the Midwest and New England chapters. It was great to see IABC student chapters from Ithaca College and Indiana State. I joined the Heritage Region, which covers 11 states, as an at-large member. I attended the 2009 IABC International Conference in San Francisco and the 2012 IABC Leadership Institute for chapter board members in Miami, but this was my first regional conference.

The organizers did a great job planning the agenda, which featured an excellent opening reception and Butler University social media presentation at the NCAA’s headquarters in downtown Indy. It was also a great convenience that all of the conference presentation decks were distributed via a Google docs link in the days leading up to the conference. This is especially helpful when you can’t attend all concurrent sessions, of course, but would like to peruse the materials of the ones you missed at some point.

Generally, when I attend workshops, panels, presentations and conferences, I will compile what I call a “synthesized summary” of highlights. In this spirit, I have digested several of the presentations into the list of takeaways.

1.The new IABC career continuum categories are “Foundational,” “Specialist,” “Strategic Advisor” and “Business Leader.”

2. Tim McCleary from The Involvement Practice provided an interactive opening keynote session called “What’s Your It?” that covered ways to involve employees better, outlining the methodology of “Understand It” (What is the change or opportunity?), “Own It” (Why is the change occurring?) and “Activate It” (“How will you make the change happen?).

3. Management change initiatives follow two avenues – The Escalator Effect – Employees can’t keep up with the constant management changes just as an escalator rail is always slightly ahead of the tread’s pace; and the Pancake Effect, where change programs keeping stacking on top of each other like flap jacks.

4. Where there is dialogue, employees will remember 50 percent of management communications; where there is immersion, there is 75 percent retention; and where there is true involvement, engagement rises to 90 percent.

5. Linda Dulye provided survey results that indicated employee engagement remains the top workplace challenge for communications with customer satisfaction the second greatest factor. She also noted that strategic planning and personal development are the top priorities of communications leaders.

6. Dulye’s 4R model for effective communication entails “Relay” (channel choice), “Relate” (customize information), “Receive” (active listening) and “Respond” (verify and follow up).

7. The 3V leader model – Seeing, influence and believing: 50% of communication is visual, 50 percent is vocal and 10 percent is verbal.

8. The SOCIAL acronym stands for Strategy, Objective/Obstacle, Content/Channels, Integration, Action Plan and Learnings.

9. 360-degree reviews and assessments can identify the “Say/Do” gaps in leadership communication. Leader behaviors and communications audits should include these questions: How they use their time? What are they leading? What questions do they ask employees?

10. Change awareness comes from formal communication (15%), processes/experience (30%) and leadership (55%).

Making the Mentorpreneurship Matter

Do you serve as a mentor in some capacity in your busy life? Do you try to give back to students and younger professionals when your schedule can accommodate such knowledge-sharing sessions? Over the last few years, I made a more proactive effort to be a mentor and contribute whenever I am available.

Over the last couple of years I have enjoyed having mentees and job shadows from local college students.

There are a couple of things I have done to prepare for a mentee or shadow appointment is approaching:

1. I outreach to colleagues in other departments to see if they will be available for a 10-minute visit with the students during the “shadow tour”. This has worked well for me on several occasions, as we have been able to show students different work environments, including a television production studio, city hall, recreation centers and economic development and tourism offices.

2. I make a “media packet” or information folder to share with the students to show them the kinds of publications and stakeholder or customer collateral that are published by different agencies, departments or divisions.

3. I gather up back issues of marketing, public relations or advertising periodicals and bundle them up in a little “career development care package”. I figure since I have skimmed them already and they start to pile up, I might as well route them over to someone else who might make good use of them.

For the most part, all of my mentee tours have been productive, positive experiences. There has been one or two times where someone wasn’t able to make it, but all those who confirmed made the effort to come out to my office and were genuinely interested in learning about the various careers I was able to show them.

I always try to sign up when local professional associations put out the call for mentors. It’s usually just a couple of hours each semester and it can really help the students benefit from being exposed to a sector they might not have really ever considered from their academic track or personal interests at the time.

We can all be mentorpreneurs every now and then. It can feel good to help broaden someone’s mindset or perspective on a particular field. I encourage you to try and do it once in a while if you haven’t yet or just didn’t think about it as a part of your career development; after all learning and sharing is a 360-degree journey.

Are You in an Association Engagement Continuum?

Have you ever been immersed in an “Association Engagement Continuum.” Below is the escalation of involvement and roles as I see it for members of professional associations. For those who have traversed this cycle or any of its six stages, it has either been an avenue for networking, a way to enhance career development, a long-term volunteer commitment to leadership, a routine drain on their personal life or a blending off all of these scenarios. On top of eagerness and commitment, these diligent members pay the same annual dues while contributing ample amounts of time, talents and treasures above and beyond the casual members who just show up when a space clears up on their schedule. 

  1. Stage 1: <Attache involved> Curious non-member: This occasional event attendee will test the waters and sniff out the social scene and is willing to play the cafeteria-style card in their prerogative of selective participation.
  2. Stage 2: <Provided satisfactory completion of Stage 1> Enthusiastic novice member: This person is eager to attend as many association functions to feel that he or she is procuring full value for the $300 investment undertaken by his or her employer or their own wallet.
  3. Stage 3: <Provided the new member hasn’t gone AWOL after three to six months of regular face time at Stage 2 > Eager-to-chip-in recruited volunteer: This person is tapped for a specific volunteer role to help plan an event or educational luncheon. Following said engagement with the board and/or general membership body, the volunteer either vanishes from the association on a permanent sabbatical or he or she is hooked and is now on track for a three-year bid or more with the association in some leadership or board member capacity.
  4. Stage 4: <Provided the volunteer has renewed his or her annual dues and passed a litmus test of at least one board member> Committed board member: This person has committed to multiple years of board service in a variety of positions, such as special event planning, finance, mentoring.
  5. Stage 5: <Provided the board member still has a life and is a glutton for more volunteer punishment> Executive committee contractee: This is the ultimate reward / punishment conundrum – the much-feared or admired three-year bond as president-elect, president and the ever-so redundant “immediate past president”.
  6. Stage 6: <Provided board member can go cold turkey and abandon all volunteer and board duties for an extended period of time> Academic accolade acolyte: Individual embarks on pursuit of coveted association or related industry certification to become welcomed into the ranks of industry enlightenment.

 

Judging Award Entries Has Career Benefits

Last week I served as an awards judge for the first time in more than a year. It was a great experience and only took about 90 minutes after work on the way home.

Have you ever volunteered as an awards judge for one of your local professional communications, marketing or advertising,  associations?

While it might sound arduous, time-consuming and clerical, it can be a fun and worthwhile endeavor to work with a different group of professionals of varying experiences while expanding your “disciplinary dimensions” when casting judgment on an assortment of campaigns, tactics, programs or events.

By no means do I consider myself a seasoned judge, but I have done it on 10 occasions over the last five years.

If you haven’t done it before because you think you are too busy or no one as asked you directly, here are some points to contemplate and why you may want to be a little more assertive the next time a call for volunteer judges surfaces in your direction:

  1. It can be a great after-hours work session to draw you out of your daily “career comfort cushion zone.” It really is work to be taken seriously, and not a happy hour (though be sure to do that after to unwind from the brain drain that can ensue from reading through and rating many entries in a couple of hours).
  2. Judging in a group can also prove to be a productive networking and mutual-learning session. I know that I have met new colleagues in this environment that I never would have otherwise worked with.
  3. You can really glean the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of projects, campaigns, collateral and events in a way that can help your perspective in your work and lead you to develop a stronger award entry for your organization down the road.
  4. Analyzing a spectrum of budgets, core competencies, experiences and quality of collateral samples can help you benchmark what you have and what you are capable of doing in similar channels for your organization. Perhaps you borrow an idea or a new challenge or concept is sparked from scrutinizing entries. When you become immersed in the whole plan, recap of results and samples, you may end up pondering what the applicants could have done differently or better, all in a productive sense for your approach when faced with a similar project or challenge.
  5. When all the tedious calculations are done with the weighted formulas, it is just as important to provide some direct tailored feedback on the evaluation form. You are assuming responsibility as a judge and your name is on the form, so provide that valued input in a concise, constructive and straightforward fashion. Just a couple of sentences outlining suggestions or areas that weren’t fully addressed in accordance with the criteria would suffice for all entries whether they are winners or not. Always point out a couple of highlights or strong points in addition to the areas to improve the next go-around. Providing these feedback will help your strategic thinking and evaluating of projects and metrics in your job.
  6. No rating system is perfect when it comes to picking winners, All-Stars and other accolades, but as a participant it is important to be fair and independent while applying the criteria in a consistent and meticulous fashion. That includes not peeking at another judges sheet or discussing the entry until you have completed your process with it. These uniform best practices for judges are crucial to establishing the benchmark or threshold for submissions that will advance and those that don’t. Where there are discrepancies between judges, discussion, negotiation and a third judge weighing in will yield to a consensus for an entry that is clearly a winner or finalist vs. the caliber of the rest of the pack. Having these discussions with fellow judges is beneficial for being a collaborative thinker capable of accepting counter-points while being flexible in assessing the final summaries of projects and reported results.
  7.  On a related note, serving as a student scholarship judge is another way to be involved in your professional associations, provide your insights into the evaluation methods and get a feel for the work and interests of up-and-coming professionals in the academic pipeline eager to be in the industry and possibly become a future employee.