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Innovative Learning Group Blog

The latest and greatest happenings at Innovative Learning Group.

The Cost and Benefits of Volunteering for a Professional Networking Association

by Mike Blahnik December 2, 2013 08:17 AM

This past November marked my one-year anniversary of becoming the vice president of finance for the ISPI (International Society for Performance Improvement) Michigan Chapter. With the past 12 months in my rearview mirror, I've developed an understanding for the real cost and benefits of volunteering for this role. ISPI-Michigan board positions are two-year commitments, so my goal is to take what I've learned thus far and use it to make things run even more smoothly in year two. Fingers crossed!

Personal Cost of Volunteering

When people find out I'm on a board, the first question I get asked is, "Wow. I bet that takes up a lot of your free time. How do you fit it into your schedule?"

Honestly, most months the time commitment is manageable, which for me means about 12 hours, give or take an hour. These hours usually account for our monthly board meeting, chapter meeting, and some financial errands I have to do the week after the chapter meeting. I also interface with other board members and volunteers to make sure we are providing high-quality chapter meetings for our members, and that we are financially responsible enough to continue to operate and provide value for our members — my primary clients.

Some months other things are happening in addition to the chapter meeting. We may have an ISPI-Michigan workshop, for example. This bumps up my time commitment about 25% because I work with the workshop presenter and the venue to ensure everyone is paid on time and that all contractual obligations are understood, met, or negotiated before and after the event.

There also are months where we don't run events at all — usually during the summer. During this downtime, my time commitment drops significantly — there's really not that much to do as the financial guy. There's always random stuff that pops up but for the most part, everything is basically on autopilot.

Basically, once you get the hang of your board responsibilities, it's pretty amazing how efficient you can be. So, from a big picture standpoint, the personal cost of volunteering, for me, is minimal.

Benefits of Volunteering

At this point in my career, the benefits of volunteering include increased exposure to colleagues and best practices in my field of interest, slightly discounted rates for attending ISPI-Michigan events, and the chance to network with ISPI gurus in Michigan and across the U.S. I also get to play a role in planning ISPI-Michigan chapter meetings. It may seem like a responsibility to some, but I view it as a chance to engineer the entire slate of events so that each meeting is particularly interesting and/or beneficial to my career. But don't tell the other board members that; I don't want my influence to wane.

I'm sure you're noticing that my benefits don't include dollars or swag. That's fine by me. A career is like a piggy bank; you get out of it what you put into it. I've decided to make contributions to my career piggy bank early and often, knowing the connections and relationships that come from it will pay in full down the line.

No matter what stage of your career you're in, I encourage you to consider volunteering at any level — whether as a board member or as a helper during a chapter meeting. You'll be pleasantly surprised with the return on investment.