Why I volunteer: The benefits of extracurricular pursuits

This article first appeared on AssociationSuccess.org. Join me, Catherine Hackney of Confident Communities Consulting, and Arianna Rehak from AssociationSuccess.org on September 14th, 12-1pm EST, for a live, collaborative discussion about handling conflict in your online community. Register for the discussion today.

I keep hearing about all these reasons why people shouldn’t work too much—health, wellness, sanity—but ain’t nobody got time for that. Don’t get me wrong: Of course you should take care of yourself, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you don’t have the time or the energy to contribute to your profession beyond your paid work. In today’s uber-competitive work environment, not taking some time to go “above and beyond” could majorly narrow your professional opportunities, networks, and potential.

So, who am I to tell you this? Let me introduce myself: I’m Luke Zimmer, the over-caffeinated and under-rested manager of sections and member engagement for the American Staffing Association. Beyond that, I also volunteer with the American Society of Association Executives where I chair the ASAE communication section council’s knowledge sub-committee. I’m also a frequent speaker at ASAE events, in addition to contributing where I can to the ASAE newsletter, Associations Now. I’ve also spoken on a number of webinars, mainly about online communities, for groups like Higher Logic, the National Association of Bar Executives, Community Manager Appreciation Day, and AssociationSuccess.org.

Would it surprise you then to hear that I also have free time to blog and run a small consulting firm? Maybe not, considering that I admitted I’m under-rested…. It surprises me, though, when I think about what I’ve been able to contribute to both the association and online community professions by shifting a few priorities to focus on my professional development.

Now, I’m not an overachiever by any means. I was not first in my graduating class. I am not always the first person to volunteer for a project. I’ve gotten this far mostly by saying yes to opportunities as they pop up—at first I said yes to everything, but I’ve become a bit more nuanced in my approach. Saying yes indiscriminately may not be a good approach for you, but always take the time to consider the long-term benefits of helping a peer with a project or co-presenting at a conference with a vendor or volunteering on a board or council. While you may be inconvenienced in the near-term, that opportunity could lead to many others down the road.

One example of this for me personally is my current job. I didn’t find this position through a job board or an employment agency. I didn’t even apply for the job. Instead, I heard about the position from a vendor I was working with on a presentation. The vendor worked with ASA and put in a good word for me. The next thing I know, I’m interviewing with the CEO of the association and preparing to move to DC from Indiana.

The point of all of this is to say that volunteerism, whether it’s personally or professionally motivated, can have a huge impact not only on your professional prospects, but also your self-esteem and self-perception. I had no idea I could deliver on all the promises I made to groups like ASAE until I challenged myself to do so. That challenge not only changed the way I’m perceived among association and online community professionals, it also changed my expectations for myself. And so, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone, to bite off a little more than you can chew, and to get to work promoting yourself and your profession. You’ll learn things about yourself that you never knew you didn’t know.

What’s the immediate call-to-action? Write a list of potential opportunities to volunteer your time, and then prioritize which ones will be the most beneficial to you.

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