At this point in my career, I’m typically very discerning in how I spend my volunteer time, but I’m glad I started my volunteer journey by a willingness to “jump in.”
My first significant volunteer role was with a start-up VHWO. The organization’s leaders contacted me as a CPA to help them with enterprise software that they had received as a donation but had no idea how to implement. As the VHWO was small, it didn’t seem like a very long-term engagement. The organization’s mission really appealed to me, and, without overthinking it, I agreed to help. I didn’t know if they were asking me to be a paid consultant or do pro bono work, but I didn’t care—their entrepreneurial energy resonated with me, and my heart told me to say “yes.”
Soon, they asked me to serve on their board as treasurer. Once again, without overanalyzing it, I agreed. I spent seven years in the role as the organization’s resources grew substantially and it gained a national presence. The best part of the experience was being part of a start-up with fellow board members, all highly successful professionals, and working to implement good governance practices to give the organization a strong foundation to grow for years to come. Had this opportunity arisen later in my career, I might have said “no,” thinking it was too risky or unorganized. I’m so glad I said “yes,” as it opened the pathway for my next 25 years of volunteering.
During this same time, I also joined IMA. My chapter asked me to help find volunteers to fill some short-term assignments. Something told me I would enjoy working with the chapter board members, so I again followed my heart and agreed, thinking, “What’s the harm with a quick assignment?” Fast-forward 25 years: I’ve served in dozens of IMA volunteer leadership roles, including a term as IMA Chair.
My IMA experience influenced many of my other volunteer activities. Over the years, I’ve also been highly engaged with board roles in other professional associations, and, as a professor, I’ve spent a large portion of my career helping my students prepare for volunteer service, particularly on boards.
I’m still offered many short-term opportunities. Before accepting them, I typically ask a few simple questions: (1) What unique value can I add? (2) How can I grow or learn? and (3) How can I help others grow and learn if I serve? Most importantly, if I feel it’s best to say “no,” I always refer the opportunity to a colleague or mentee.
My volunteer journey may have started accidentally, but I’m grateful I followed my instincts and found life-changing results. I would encourage you, too, to jump in and say “yes” to volunteer service if your heart is telling you so; you never know where it might lead.