By Andy Forsell

Andy Forsell is an Assistant Vice President at Lockton Companies.  He is a current Greater Phoenix Chamber Board Member and serves as the Immediate Past Chair for GPC’s Valley Young Professionals Board of Directors.

While interviewing for Lockton, one of the interviewers – who would later become my mentor – told me bluntly that I needed to be more involved in the community.  He was right: At that point in my career, I wasn’t really very involved.  Worse, I really wasn’t sure where to begin. Luckily, I had great mentors to show me how and to help me get started.

Based on how many professionals evince interest in volunteering while asking for advice on how to do so, the process isn’t as simple as it sounds. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of giving back.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.Benjamin Franklin

By “prepare,” I mean follow a process that helps ensure you set yourself up with the best chance for success.

1: START WITH “WHY”

At some point in their career, almost everybody says they want to “get involved” or “volunteer.” The impetus for this usually falls into some combination of these three motivations:

  • I want to “give back”
  • I want to make friends / meet new people
  • I want to expand my professional network

It’s important to understand why you want to be involved.  We all have too many demands on our time and if you are getting involved out of a sense of obligation or a vague feeling that it’s what you are “supposed” to do, it will be one of the first things you find you “don’t have time for.”   And by stepping back or stepping away, you rob yourself of the fulfilling experience that community involvement can be and hurting the organization that is counting on you to help it fulfill its mission.

2: BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF

As you define your “why,” keep in mind that your own motivations are going to be key to successful community involvement.  Be honest about what you are hoping to get out of your involvement.  I’m willing to bet that everyone reading this knows someone who says they want to “give back” when really what motivates them is the social capital that comes from being seen as an unselfish person. That’s OK! It just means that person is personally invested in causes/organizations where their contribution is going to be noticed by the people whose regard they hold in highest esteem.

3: COMMIT AND BE PRESENT

Your contribution to the organization, your sense of personal fulfillment and enjoyment and the bonds of friendship you may form are all going to greatly depend on how often you show up and whether you can be counted on to put the work in.

4: (DON’T BE) A REBEL – OR MEMBER – WITHOUT A CAUSE

Whatever your primary or key motivations are for getting involved, you need to narrow down what to get involved in.  Start by identifying the causes that you care about the most. Even if you’re most interested in meeting new people for business or social reasons, you won’t be as committed to your chosen organization if its cause doesn’t resonate with you – and others will know it.

5: KNOW WHO’S WHO

Trust me, there are thousands of worthy causes out there, and there are probably dozens of organizations doing great, important work for each of those causes. First, make sure any organizations you are considering can satisfy the ante: they are well regarded by the constituents they purport to serve and there are no glaring red flags when it comes to their integrity.

To narrow down your choices, evaluate each organization and how well it fits into your other motivations by asking yourself questions such as:

  • Is it a “start-up” or new board / advisory panel / membership organization?

If so, this typically will call for more of a time commitment.  “Walk before you can run” steps, such as recruiting, are going to be the most pressing need. You are likely to spend a lot of time with the same few passionate members and get to know them really well, but you aren’t going to meet as many new people as if you joined a well-established group. Your contributions are going to make a bigger difference, but you are also going to be counted on quite a bit more.

  • What does membership look like?

This matters most if you are looking to meet new people, make friends or network professionally. Are the people serving alongside you the same people you want to get to know?  Do they seem to share your personal interests?

Other questions to consider:

  • What is the commitment (i.e., expected length of service)?
  • If your life circumstances are likely to change during your participation, does this impact your ability to be involved?

6: QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

Rather than participate casually in many different groups, it’s generally better to pick a few causes or organizations to be involved with and commit yourself to a deeper level of involvement in them.  This leads to developing deeper relationships with other members and permits a broader understanding of the issues and how you can best serve the organization.  It also creates accountability: You’ll be missed if you are a no-show.

7: TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

Notwithstanding tip #6, go to a few events or volunteer on a more casual level with any groups you are considering participating in before you seek to join the board, serve on executive leadership, or otherwise commit yourself to them. You have a finite amount of time between work, family, and social obligations, so there is an opportunity cost to over-committing.

8: TWO BIRDS, ONE STONE

At the risk of further belaboring a point well belabored at this point… You are likely juggling several demands on your time. Look for ways to tie other personal obligations, priorities, and interests into your community involvement. This will make your participation much “stickier” and reduce the risk that your engagement will wane as demands on your time increase.

  • In business development? Find organizations whose members include the people you need to know professionally.
  • Finding it hard to get quality time with your friends or spouse? Get them involved with the same organization or get involved in a cause they are passionate about.

9: GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS

Chances are that your friends, family and/or coworkers share interests and potentially care about the same issues you do. In addition to the opportunities for shared involvement mentioned in #8, these connections are a great source of potential introductions to organizations to check out. For those not very engaged yet in the community, I especially recommend getting involved in groups like the GPC Valley Young Professionals. It’s a good way to meet a wide range of professionals involved in very different organizations throughout the Valley. You’ll hear about groups from these brief interactions and can tag along with your new connection to their next event to check it out.

10: HAVE A (LESS) HARD TIME SAYING “NO”

Anyone who has been very involved in the community has overcommitted themselves before – full stop. I can tell you from personal experience that as uncomfortable as turning down a request to serve a worthy cause is, it is nothing compared to how uncomfortable it can be to later resign from a position because you couldn’t commit the necessary effort to make it successful. It could be that you don’t have the time, or it wasn’t the right fit for you, or any of a dozen good reasons.  It doesn’t matter: you are not doing the organization a favor by agreeing too hastily.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

What I love about Phoenix is that when it comes to community involvement, it is a big city with a small town feel. You’ll find, as I have, that it’s personally and professionally fulfilling to take an active role in community engagement.  It will feel great to do your part to improve the community you’ve chosen to work in and call home.

Posted by Jocelyn McAlpin