The Power of Volunteering: 3 Lessons from Serving Your Professional Community

The power of volunteering: 3 lessons from serving your professional community


I recently finished a four-year term on the conference committee for the AMC Institute, a trade organization focused on advancing professionalism and industry standards for association management companies (AMCs). I have been involved with the Institute for about eight years, and throughout this time, I’ve not only gained knowledge that has helped me create value for the associations we serve at MCI USA, but it’s also allowed me to build relationships with people who understand what I do for a living. (After 20 years working with AMCs, my mom still thinks I run events and my father thinks I’m a fundraiser, so this part is a big deal!) 

For the past year, I served as the chair of the conference committee as we prepared for this year’s annual meeting, which took place in January in Orlando. Being a part of this committee for the past four years has reminded me of the work it takes to produce a member benefit that is both useful and relevant, and of the dedication and passion association volunteers have in serving their professional community. This experience has also left me with these three lessons: 

  1. Take advantage of opportunities that provide a new perspective. As AMC professionals, we are busy on the staff team, preparing for board meetings and committee calls, planning logistics for events, and so much more. Taking on a volunteer role offered a unique viewpoint from the other side of the board table or Zoom square. As the committee chair, I wanted to represent the best working relationship between a volunteer and staff — a relationship that is critical to getting association business accomplished. For example, being prepared for meetings by reading materials in advance is an easy way to streamline time to focus on strategic discussions. Being onsite and knowing how hard the staff works, especially those final weeks, reminded me that the best time to give any critical feedback was not during the conference. We are there to support and elevate the amazing staff. Feedback is for future planning. 
  2. Flexibility is key when change happens. About six weeks out from the conference, there was some staff turnover. It happens. Rather than complain and worry, I trusted the organization’s executive leadership and asked how I could help. Change will always happen, and instead of panicking or doubling down in an unhelpful way, it's important to take a step back and think about how goals can still get accomplished. We must be able to pivot or shift gears, no matter what role we’re in — volunteer or staff member — whenever the unexpected occurs. 
  3. Push your comfort zone. As chair, I was comfortable leading the planning and committee management; these areas are within my safe space. But onsite at the conference, I had to take the stage in front of my peers. (Can you imagine the number of keynote speakers these association professionals have seen in their lifetimes?) I knew getting on stage was one of my responsibilities, but that didn’t make me any less nervous. To get through it, I played to my strengths — being warm and friendly — and embraced this step out my comfort zone as another opportunity for growth.  

So why should any of this matter to you? As association executives, we often engage with those who share their time to drive their industry forward, and we should find opportunities to do the same. Think about how you’re giving back and find a way to serve this community we all love. Not only will you get a fresh perspective, but you’ll be reminded of the crucial job our volunteers take on with the organizations we work with, and you might be encouraged to find comfort in new spaces. 

By Amy Lotz, CAE, Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff at MCI USA.