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HR Connection: Volunteerism a win-win source for professional development

By: Frank A. Cania//February 13, 2017

HR Connection: Volunteerism a win-win source for professional development

By: Frank A. Cania//February 13, 2017

hrcon_caniaFor those who have come to expect an explanation of the latest legislative or regulatory issue to menace businesses, you will find this month’s article a departure, and hopefully an interesting departure, from the norm. Not that there aren’t a plethora of legislative and regulatory issues menacing businesses. Far from it. But, from time to time, it’s good for my brain to take a different path.

This month I’m going to focus on the incredible personal and professional benefits of volunteering. Over the last eight months I’ve had several opportunities to share “my story.” That is how I started, grew, and then almost 10 years to the day sold my company, driven HR. And as I looked back over that time I realized there were, and continue to be, two foundational elements to my success. First, the patient and enduring love of my wife, Becky, and our two children. Secondly, the incredible opportunities I’ve been afforded through my many volunteer roles. The fact that you’re reading this article is a result of my volunteer commitment to the Rochester Chapter of the National Human Resource Association (“NHRA”). By sharing my time and talents as a volunteer, I’ve received an immeasurable return on my investment.

The first step to becoming a volunteer is simply raising your hand to say, “I’d like to help.” As easy as that sounds, there are countless reasons — excuses, really — why people don’t take that first step. Let’s look at a few of the most common excuses I’ve heard recently:

  • “I’m so busy with (fill in the blank), I can’t imagine taking on one more thing!” Have you ever heard that if you want something done, ask a busy person? From the statistics I’ve read, it rings true here. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, volunteers are most often well-educated (27%), employed (39%), parents of children 18 or younger (31%), and in their mid-30s to mid-50s (28%). Further, women are more likely to volunteer (28%) than men (22%). (Women are also 100% more likely to be busier than men, according to my wife!)
  • “The organization does such a great job with everything, and I’ve never been asked to help, so I’m sure they don’t need me.” This one is a double-edged sword for most organizations. Yes, they do a great job, but that’s often because a core group of volunteers gives a lot of their time and talents. Don’t wait for a personal invitation. Ask how you can help or offer to fill an open role.
  • “I don’t have any experience or anything special to offer.” You won’t need experience for most volunteer roles, and you do have something special to offer — you want to help.
  • “I’m shy and uncomfortable around people I don’t know.” I’ll admit, I can’t identify with this one. But, I know several people who feel this way and have still found great opportunities to volunteer. Many organizations need “behind the scenes” help.
  • “I had a bad experience once as a volunteer.” It happens. I’ve had a few bad experiences, and countless great experiences. The truth is not every volunteer organization is perfect and neither is every volunteer leader. If you had a bad experience, move past it and find a new opportunity.

With the excuses out of the way, let’s focus on just one of the many avenues available for volunteering:  professional associations. When I ask HR professionals why they volunteer with professional organizations like the Association for Talent Development (“ATD”), the Association of Workplace Investigators (“AWI”), NHRA, and SHRM, I hear many of the same reasons. To network with peers from other organizations, gain experience using a specific set of skills, increase professional knowledge, share experiences, demonstrate leadership abilities, and help sustain and grow the organization. What I seldom find are professionals who consciously recognize or consider how volunteer experiences will, more often than not, significantly enhance their professional development. Further, when I mention this point, many act as if volunteering in exchange for professional development makes the act less charitable. Not true!

When I decided to change careers, moving from accounting into the human resource profession, I had a limited understanding of the possible career paths, little HR experience, and no industry connections. To help overcome these deficits I joined the Society for Human Resource Management (“SHRM”), and soon after started volunteering with the local Genesee Valley Chapter.

Never one to hold back and slowly test the waters, I put my accounting experience to work and volunteered to take on the role of chapter treasurer. After four years as treasurer, I was twice elected chapter president.

While chapter treasurer, I was introduced to professional advocacy. Before I volunteered to meet with members of Congress as an advocate for the HR profession, the closest I had come to an elected official was watching them walk by in a parade. Now, as federal advocacy director for the NY State SHRM Council, I’ve had the privilege to lead several groups of SHRM members in meetings on Capitol Hill, been yelled at by a very well-known senator for disagreeing with his stance on a legislative issue, and count several congressional staffers as friends.

My other volunteer roles have, and continue to include, item writer for the SHRM Certified Professional (“SHRM-CP”) and Senior Certified Professional (“SHRM-SCP”) exams, monthly HR Connection columnist on behalf of the Rochester Chapter of NHRA, adjunct faculty member – AWI Training Institute for Workplace Investigators, pilot participant for the AWI certificate program, and most recently, I was selected to sit on the SHRM Special Expertise Panel on Labor Relations.

I view every volunteer activity as a professional development opportunity, and that does not diminish the value it brings to the organization. So, the next time you sit down to map out your professional growth and development, consider volunteering for a professional association. It really is a win-win situation.

Frank A. Cania, M.S.Emp.L., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is president of driven HR, A USA Payroll Company. Located in Pittsford, NY, driven HR provides human resource consulting services including HR audits, outsourced HR management, employee handbooks, and a variety of other services. Frank concentrates on wage-and-hour, FMLA, ADA, Title VII, and Form I-9 compliance, as well as workplace investigations. This article is brought to you by the Rochester affiliate of the National HR Association, a local professional HR organization focused on advancing the career development, planning, and leadership of HR professionals.

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