Volunteer: Serve Others and Help Yourself

“What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good.” ~Aristotle


I don’t care what your profession, there is probably a membership organization out there just for you. City planner? How about the American Planning Association? Engineers have the National Society of Professional Engineers. If you’re a professional evaluator you may belong to the American Evaluation Association. Then there’s the International Association of Nail Salons for, you guessed it, nail salon owners. There truly is a group for every profession and every person out there. 


You can imagine my joy when as a lonely grant professional I discovered the Grant Professionals Association. It’s thrilling to meet like-minded grant people who get excited about the same things I do. Want to talk data sites? You’ve found your people. Want to complain about the ridiculous regulations surrounding a certain funder’s reporting process? Oh you have so found your people. Because, let’s face it, our coworkers and spouses are over our endless chattering about deadlines, sustainability, match requirements, and character counts. (Well, at least mine is.)


The one thing in common for every association is they will fail without their members. Members are the lifeblood of organizations like these. It is where newbies learn their craft, experience leadership opportunities, and stretch their wings. Without dedicated, experienced professionals to run chapters, speak at conferences, and serve a myrid of volunteer opportunities, no membership organization will thrive. But the truth is, it’s a win-win situation.


I earned my leadership chops first serving as President of the Georgia Grant Professionals Association. It taught me how to coordinate with fellow volunteers, ask for help, and plan a year’s worth of professional development meetings. Later I served on the Board of Directors of the Grant Professionals Certification Institute, including time in the Treasurer, Vice President, and President positions. Eight years on this board taught me so much about the credentialing process, but it also taught me about a volunteer board. I thought I knew a thing or two about budgeting and planning programs, but there is nothing like having to live your own budget and strategic plan. (It also taught me that I don’t ever want to serve as treasurer again, but that’s another discussion for another day.)


Yes, volunteering in any capacity takes away time you can spend doing other things, including working a real job, hanging with your family, or reading a good book. But volunteer opportunities add to your resume, teach you skills you might not learn in your current roll, and generally help you spread your wings. So the next time your membership group puts out a call for speakers at an annual conference, mentors to pass on the skills of our craft, or committee positions, don’t just ignore it. Consider what that volunteer position will teach you. If you can learn a new skill, give back to your profession, or help improve life for future generations in your profession, consider giving back. You might just surprise yourself with what that volunteer opportunity gives you.


“Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.”

~Erma Bombeck



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