Being a president or committee chair for a professional association, parent-school organization or community group is a very rewarding leadership experience. It’s also very demanding and takes communication and delegation skills, political savvy and a dose of moxie! Today, Shonali Burke, a public relations pro, gives a shout to future volunteer leaders and shares her personal lessons learned from her term as the president of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC/DC Metro).
We’ve summarized her original post below. Thanks Shonali!
Lessons Learned as a Volunteer Leader (that ‘they’ don’t tell you about)
By Shonali Burke
If you are considering a volunteer leadership position, I’d like to share these thoughts with you, from one volunteer leader to another.
1. You’re going to have to put in significant amounts of time.
That is, if you’re going to do the job right.
Being a volunteer leader takes time. A lot of time. A lot of non-billable time.
I certainly haven’t grudged it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there were occasions when I just wanted to put my head down and say, “Enough!”
It happens, right?
When we throw our hats in the ring for volunteer leadership, though, we know we’re not going to get paid, at least in hard cash.
Such a position is a great thing to have on your resume.
It’s made me countless friends and opened doors to business opportunities, as well as my teaching position with Johns Hopkins.
But I never took any of that for granted.
If you’re going to maintain the respect of your peers, you’re going to have to prove, every day of your term, that you deserve to be in that position, paid or not.
2. Additional visibility comes with additional sensitivity.
One of the things I was proud of this year was that we managed to get a monthly e-newsletter back on track.
It didn’t always go out on time (for me, that meant during the first week of the month), but it did go out every month.
Since the articles were contributed by different people, some of whom were not on the board, I asked my editor to link to everyone’s websites/blogs as a way of saying “thank you.”
Imagine my surprise when I received a note from a long-time member berating me on taking “unfair advantage” of my position by “promoting” my business… because my signature linked to my business site.
(As did everyone else’s, I might add.)
I was stunned. When I asked some of my board members if they thought I was doing this, they essentially rolled their eyes.
Thank you, Board!
Interestingly enough, this note came from someone who had just started up a consulting business. Hmm.
Still, I didn’t want anyone to think I was using the chapter unfairly, so from then on, we changed signature links to “mail to” links.
When you’re in a position of increased visibility, you’re also in a position of increased sensitivity. The best way to roll with it is to err on the side of caution.
3. Different strokes for different folks
I know we’re all supposed to love each other, and say everyone’s always doing a marvelous job and all that jazz.
Nice in principle, but just like real life, some people work harder than others.
Some pay attention to the established processes and systems, and some don’t.
Some have outsize personalities and are vocal about their opinions, and some don’t/aren’t.
The important thing is to be able to look beyond all this, just as you would in your day job, and try to get to the end goal.
It takes diplomacy and a lot of deep breathing to keep a varied cast of characters – none of whom are being paid – motivated and working together. Trust me on the deep breathing.
When faced with conflict or differing opinions, acknowledge the issue, get everyone’s input, treat everyone with respect… and make decisions not based on personality, but on what’s best for your organization.
Shonali Burke was named to PRWeek’s inaugural top “40 Under 40″ list of US-based PR professionals and is considered one of 25 women that rock social media. In addition to running a successful “agency of one,” she is Adjunct Faculty at Johns Hopkins University’s M.A. in Communications program, IABC/DC Metro’s Immediate Past President and BNET’s Startup Storyteller. Talk to her on Waxing UnLyrical or Twitter.