Why volunteer for PRSA anyway? You’re in a demanding career where time is dear, and volunteering means you won’t be paid and there’s no guarantee your efforts will succeed. Sounds like a gamble.
But so is not volunteering. As with everything else, there are costs of volunteering: time, effort, perhaps frustration. Yet when you forego volunteering, particularly with PRSA, there are opportunity costs you should consider carefully so that—if you are to miss something—all least you’ll know what you’re missing.
We’re in this business of strategically managing public relationships, you and I, and I submit that volunteering for our professional society is uniquely valuable for the public relations professional. In other words, it’s perhaps more valuable for us than for the physician volunteering for the AMA or the accountant volunteering for the National Society of Accountants. And the reason is that relationships are our stock in trade.
PRSA offers us the means to not only gain and hone skills, as do other professionals’ associations, but it also provides a laboratory for practicing the science and the art of advancing an organization and the publics its serves. Consider:
- Volunteering (which, let’s be clear, means “working hard for free”) for PRSA in new ways or at new levels will raise your game. It’s raised mine, for sure. It has put me into organizational challenges and groups of people that have encouraged and dared me to be my best professional self. It’s pulled me out of daily routines at the office and opened vistas as I’ve worked shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best PR professionals in the world. One learns teamwork on new teams, gains relationships that aren’t driven by commerce so much as professional affinities, and learns new practices on one of the very best practice fields for what we do in our careers.
- Volunteering will grow your network, exponentially. It will take some time, but that time will move with astonishing speed, and you will find that you know literally hundreds of the best professionals in our field, across the country and around the world. Why would anyone forego that? I’ve been able to call on PR rock stars in dozens of situations when I’ve needed help on the job or with something entirely unrelated to PRSA. The only reason those amazing people have taken my calls is that I’ve volunteered with them, and I hope they know how deeply grateful I am for their support, counsel and friendship. They were brought to me by PRSA, specifically, by volunteering for PRSA.
- Volunteering will stretch you, and may give you the opportunity to stretch others or even PRSA itself. There are volunteer opportunities for you that are local, regional, national, in vocational or specialty practice areas, or in affinity groups. It’s quite a menu, so select carefully. Once you select, commit. You’ll be able to assess relatively quickly what is needed in a given PRSA sector, then you can conspire with others (you won’t achieve much of lasting value by yourself) to deliver it. You will find it enormously gratifying, this delivery of benefits from you as a volunteer to the organization and the greater good that you serve. You will change and get better at it over time, as well. A mentor of mine used to say, “before you change the world you must change yourself,” a wonderful case for continuous learning. So you may wish to begin on established PRSA committees or task forces, and you may be able to change them as you change yourself. Or you may see an unmet need, and literally make something up. Several years ago, I teamed with like-minded volunteers to perpetrate PRSA’s MBA program, and now our strategic communications course offering is in 14 business schools around the country, with more on the way. I could not have foreseen the fire we’ve ignited, the influence we’d have, how much I’d learn, how many I’d meet, and how thankful I’d be for the opportunity to participate.
Please note that these benefits from volunteering for PRSA are distinct from all of the professional development, training and networking you receive by virtue of paying dues and showing up at gatherings personally or virtually. Those benefits are why most of us join PRSA, and that’s entirely appropriate.
You will gain far more than a typical PRSA attendee, however, if you become a PRSA volunteer, and those are the benefits that will truly distinguish you—at PRSA, at your job and in your personal life. Check out this endorsement of volunteering in a May 14 column from Harvey Mackay, a hugely successful entrepreneur whose father insisted he spend 25% of his time volunteering, a practice he has continued for decades because of the ROI.
The 19th Century art critic and social commentator John Ruskin said, “The highest reward for man’s toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it.” Carefully consider volunteering more for PRSA and becoming more of who you might be.
Anthony D’Angelo, APR, Fellow PRSA, is senior manager of communications for ITT Corporation. In August he will become a full-time professor of public relations at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. He is immediate past-chair of the PRSA College of Fellows, a member of the Universal Accreditation Board and the PRSA Foundation’s Audit Committee, and founder of PRSA’s MBA Program, a committee on which he still serves. Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyDAngelo_ITT.