In their book, The Decision to Volunteer: Why People Give Their Time and How You Can Engage Them, Beth Gazley and Monica Dignam used research on associations to better understand why members volunteer for professional societies such as ISA. Their research indicated that volunteers contribute their time for both altruistic (other-serving) and instrumental (self-serving) reasons. Common reasons included: a desire for greater personal responsibility, a desire to make a difference, a need for affiliation, a desire to meet new people, a desire to learn new skills, and a desire for a new challenge.
There’s also a natural tendency to volunteer in areas most familiar to us, whether it’s within our professional arena, our community, or our church. Think back about a time when you “put up your hand” to help out and I’ll bet that it was because of at least one of the reasons cited in the research above. The reasons for my ISA volunteerism have changed a bit over time. It started because of the need for affiliation and the associated benefits of networking.
As time progressed, it also became about developing new leadership skills and tackling the challenges of indirect influence. In my volunteer efforts today, I’m motivated to make a real, positive difference for both ISA and our profession. Through the years, I have seen and actively made the connection between my volunteerism and my career development. I also made sure that my management recognized the connection and its value to me as a professional.
Now think about how you became a volunteer. Perhaps you proactively offered your time and talent. Or maybe you were asked by a friend or colleague to contribute. I became involved in ISA through the latter. I can still vividly recall when two of our section officers asked me to accept the position as newsletter editor. As I was fresh in my career, I was quite honored and viewed the invitation as a great opportunity. Things just seemed to take off from there. I also remember when two former district vice presidents approached me to consider serving as District 2 vice president and when the Society Investment Committee Chair asked me become a member. Little did I know that saying “yes” would eventually lead to many other Society positions and eventually being asked to run for ISA president.
Hopefully, you’ll recall that one of ISA’s priorities for this year is building our leadership pipeline — identifying, recruiting, mentoring, and training future ISA leaders. However, when we take the direct route and ask members to volunteer, we need to do so thoughtfully. This starts with matching the right skill sets to available roles and ensuring that prospective volunteers fully understand the positions and their expectations. For volunteer experiences to be meaningful and rewarding, they need to be people-driven rather than position-driven. The Putting-a-Butt-in-a-Chair (BIC) route might fill a vacancy, but it’s not in the best interest of the volunteer or the organization. We also should focus more on addressing shorter-term project needs so members can explore and get a feel for different opportunities and not feel they’re locked in to “lifetime” commitments.
It’s also important to recognize that the level of volunteer involvement often varies to where people are in their careers and personal lives. A “no thanks” could mean “not ever,” or it could mean “just not right now.” The type of involvement can differ among members, too. We’ve learned that younger members see less value in traditional networking and training venues but place a greater value in altruistic endeavors ventures. ISA needs to create an environment that makes it easier and more compelling to join teams focused on making real contributions.
To address these realities and meet these challenges, we have created two teams (task forces) that have the important role of reviewing and hopefully making a positive impact on our leadership pipeline. One task force, chaired by former ISA President Peggie Koon, is focused on our recruitment and nomination process. The other task force, chaired by Professional Development Chair Jim Garrison, is identifying improvement opportunities for training new leaders, both in terms of their ISA-specific roles as well as general leadership skills. Both teams are meeting regularly and I’ll be reporting back on their progress next month.
Meanwhile, we need your help to identify new potential leaders. You could well be one or you may have someone to recommend. It would then be up to us to align interests and skills sets to ISA positions. This might also involve some targeted training or mentoring. We need to “walk the talk” by being willing to invest in high-potential volunteers and help ensure that their employers and families see the benefit of their time commitments.
So here is my personal call to action for you. We have set up an e-mail address — firstname.lastname@example.org — for receiving potential leader suggestions. I’m encouraging you to carefully consider making a recommendation or raising your own hand. Together, we can help build a brighter future for ISA — not just in the months ahead but in the generations to come. If we are able to make progress, we are assured of making the world a better place.
Please contact me at President@isa.org to offer your suggestions or if you want to learn more about joining Team ISA.
A version of this article also has been published in ISA Insights.