Q: How many volunteers does it take to plan and host a statewide HR conference?
A: Whatever number you’re thinking, add 10 more!
Volunteers are absolutely critical to the success of all organizations, not-for-profit or otherwise, but they are often overlooked and undervalued. Knowing this to be true, why do we volunteer?
I am absolutely certain that I owe much of my professional (and personal) success to volunteerism. I have been equally – if not more – challenged, encouraged, and developed in volunteer roles in comparison with paid roles. Some of my most significant growth moments were from volunteer projects. I literally would not be working in my current paid role without a volunteer connection. Every member of our professional team has served in volunteer leadership roles for community-based organizations and professional/trade associations, and each of us has gained invaluable interpersonal skills, project management experience, and so much more, specifically through volunteerism.
I just had the great pleasure of planning a conference with a committee of six for a statewide volunteer-led organization. We start with six for planning purposes, but on the day of, six becomes forty. Every year, almost the entire event is staffed by volunteers who give up work or personal time to stuff conference bags, hand out boxed lunches, direct people to restrooms, or whatever other tasks pop up. Mixed in with operational responsibilities, we talk and laugh and commiserate about life and work and dogs and sports. We refresh. We make connections. We learn.
So, the answer to the question about why we volunteer when we’re often overlooked and undervalued is really a three-part answer. I like a good visual, so here’s my homemade Volunteer Venn:
Through volunteer roles, we explore ourselves and grow as individual people, we experience the good and the human connection separate from paychecks and performance evaluations, and we also create and facilitate career opportunities for ourselves and others. We are better leaders at work, better family members, and better friends when we’ve learned to give of our time and resources freely and without strings.
Volunteers are a community. Some of my best relationships, personal and professional, were cultivated through volunteering, and I will forever be thankful for them.
What positive, life-changing volunteer experiences have you had? How can you start today?