Editor’s note: In recognition of PRSA’s Volunteers, we invited members of various Boards, Committees and Sections to offer their views on the importance of volunteering and reflect on what prompted them to give back to the profession through service. If you are interested in applying for a PRSA leadership position, please submit your application by visiting this link.
When I was asked to write a blog post about my experience as a PRSA volunteer and what it has meant to me, the standard cliché of the need to “pay it forward” and “you get out of it what you put into it” immediately came to mind. Why? Well, beyond the fact that they are true and I could write volumes on either of these, everyone has heard them applied to multiple motivational topics.
However, when I talk about my experiences with PRSA, it is much more emotional. It is much more tangible. And, it constitutes so much more than I have ever achieved from any formal education or paying job that I have had. Sounds a little extreme, doesn’t it?
For me – it was, and is. First, let me be honest and say I didn’t come to “volunteering” in PRSA of my own accord. I had a very smart boss who took me to a local chapter meeting, then told me that she was going pay for me to join and I was going to become “active.” In her mind, that meant you were going to engage with the membership, find a committee and get involved. So, why not? It was literally nothing out of my pocket, right?
From that first engagement I found three things of value:
- A network of professionals who knew a lot more about public relations than I did and who were willing to share their knowledge;
- A low-risk opportunity to build skills in areas that I didn’t have but would be of value to me if I wanted upward mobility in the profession, and
- My tribe – people who spoke the same language as I did; who got its value and were excited about its future.
Do you want to know the interesting part about all of this? If I had simply stopped at becoming a member, I would have missed out on all of it. I would have simply paid my dues (or at least my boss would have), maybe attended a meeting and then asked, “What’s the value of my membership?” Instead, I became an active volunteer and over the next six years, I was faced with providing that value to other members as I chaired committees, produced events and served in leadership at the local level.
From that chapter experience, I gained friendships, networks, knowledge and confidence that helped me both personally and professionally. But more importantly, I hadn’t even scratched the surface of the opportunities that PRSA offered until I leveraged my membership beyond the local chapter to the district, section and national levels of engagement. Ironically, once again not making that decision on my own, but being encouraged by others to consider volunteering beyond the local level.
So what opportunities presented themselves? Beyond visiting colleges, PRSSA and PRSA chapters across this country, my volunteer positions have taken me to Stockholm, Sweden; Barcelona, Spain and Lima, Peru. I’ve met the icons of our industry, as well as the future leaders of the public relations profession. I’ve learned firsthand from the experts in social media, measurement, and international business across the dinner table. I’ve opened the NASDAQ stock exchange and spoken in front of thousands of people. And I’ve made incredible contacts and friendships that will continue to enhance me professionally and personally.
Every volunteer position I’ve held in PRSA has been the key to opening doors to meet people that have become friends, mentors, clients and colleagues. They’ve introduced me to companies and products that I have used to advance my career and lifestyle. Not a bad payoff for a volunteer gig.
Clearly, I fully recommend becoming a volunteer in PRSA. If you haven’t, you are missing out on the value that the organization brings to you and the value that you can bring to others. Not only will you go great places and meet great people, but as Dr. Suess also said in his last book, “There’s fun to be done…”
*With acknowledgement of Dr. Seuss
Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA, is director of partnership development at HGTV in Knoxville, Tenn. He served as 2010 PRSA Chair and CEO, the president of the PRSA Foundation in 2006 and 2007, and has been a co-chair of the Champions for PRSSA since 2004.