• Brock Whitfield

Let's Give Back

Associations: Get Involved!

by Brock Whitfield

Those within the meetings profession and hospitality industry lead very busy careers. Industry associations provide valuable opportunities to get out and meet with peers as well as potential business partners.

While attending monthly mixers and meetings certainly offers plenty of benefits, getting involved as a volunteer can exponentially increase the value of memberships within these associations - sometimes even in unexpected ways.

Whether volunteering on a small scale or serving a key role within the association, there’s much to be gained in terms of experience, knowledge and forging important relationships along with the right connections.

Why Volunteer?

According to Erica A. Keagy, administrator for the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Professional Convention Management Association (GPPCMA), volunteering presents a number of benefits, including the opportunity to give back not only to the association membership, but to the larger community and greater hospitality industry. She adds that doing so also is good for one’s career, makes the volunteer feel good, and helps to build their professional network.

Joe Sapp, CAE, director of business development for Talley Management Group and president for the Mid-Atlantic Society of Association Executives (MASAE), says that he believes most volunteers are motivated to do so for a few main reasons, “First, they are giving back to an association that gave a lot to them in terms of value. They also are gaining experience and skills by leading within an association. Being a volunteer is a value to an individual in itself.”

“Those at the committee or entry level of volunteering are building new contacts and experiences in leadership,” he continues. “Those reaching higher levels, like the board of directors, are building a higher level of knowledge around leadership… It really all tracks back to a continued opportunity to advance your career and knowledge."

Jim Kelley, president of PCMA Capital Chapter observes that people volunteer for a variety of different reasons based on the organization, their professional role and where they are in their career path.

But, he adds, the most successful volunteer engagement seems to come from those who volunteer with both purpose and passion. “It is easy to tell those volunteers from others who may have been ‘voluntold’ to get involved,” he explains.

Beth Koenig, president at Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the International Live Events Association (ILEA), says that volunteering is all about making connections, regardless of one’s current professional status.

If they are recent college graduates or new to the industry, she explains, "this is a great way to meet people and start building your network. Seasoned professionals, too, try to gain the same by meeting new people and expanding on their network and relationships."

Skills & Career Building

Sapp explains that while there are a variety of skills that can be gained through association volunteering (communication, team building, event planning, budgeting), the main skill developed is leadership. “You learn how to lead a group of peers and those from a wide range of experiences and backgrounds."

"Networking is another skill that you can enhance through volunteering,” he adds. “Yes, networking is a skill! It takes effort and strategy to build a network of trusted colleagues, and not everyone is social butterfly. Volunteering lets you engage in a more active way and gets you connected to a network in a more active and structured way, as well."

He also adds that volunteering provides a chance to explore areas that the volunteer may not get to experience in their current job. They might pick up new skills and be able to add them to their resume.

"As an individual, you build collegial relationships with a network that can provide support in a number of ways,” explains Sapp. “I know I have colleagues within my local association that I go to when I need to bounce ideas off of them. It gives you a solid network of trusted contacts to lean on when you need advice. It is something you have to work at, though. Get involved and take advantage of the opportunity to connect in the volunteer opportunities available to you."

In terms of business, he says that volunteering has a number of benefits - from building a brand as an industry leader to having a large list of contacts who can help in recruiting top talent for one’s business. He also says that, from firsthand experience, he has seen how volunteering can drive one’s career forward. “Volunteering builds your network, builds your leadership capacity, and opens the door to new career opportunities."

"You learn new ways to do things and how to operate in a wider circle of professionals,” he continues. “This really opens up the door to advancing your career. For me, it gave me access to a network of colleagues that were great support as I progressed in my career."

Kelley offers the view that the two most important skills that can be developed through association volunteering are building effective teams and getting things done while in charge.

“Volunteer teams are often assembled in a manner that would never occur in a work place,” he observes. “The skills experience, demographics and desired outcomes of those volunteering have the potential of being much more diverse then a workplace team... In the workplace, while there is collaboration and discussion, at some point not all decisions will be made democratically, and someone is in charge and accountable. This is not the case with volunteers. While someone may be the ‘chair’ of a committee, it is a truly collaborative environment where the chair may have to work, politic and convince people to make a decision in a certain direction.”

In terms of career growth, Kelley says that his own volunteer experience has been instrumental in his professional development. “I personally attribute much of my professional success and growth to the volunteer work I have done both professionally and personally... It has helped me: become a better listener; build collaborative teams; effectively manage up; manage my time more efficiently; and create a network of individuals who are resources I can turn to for virtually any issue.”

Koenig explains that volunteering offers additional benefits, too, like learning how to multi-task, delegate, and be part of a team. She also says it helps professionals become noticed and recognized within their industry or to become “a mover and shaker."

It also is a way to demonstrate to peers how much work he or she can handle and further accelerate their career, as a result. “The more advanced you get in volunteering,” asserts Koenig, “the more people you know, helping you to continuously build a larger network while maintaining relationships."

A Sense of Belonging

Keagy says that getting involved in an association and volunteering often develops into a sense of belonging because of the connections that are established with other people. “This often leads to friendships," she explains.

Sapp observes that joining a group and engaging can seem like a daunting task for many. “You attend a conference and are overwhelmed by the activities and the number of people you interact with, but by volunteering you can build your network within the association a piece at a time. You build really great relationships with the volunteers with whom you interact."

"By engaging in a volunteer capacity, you also build confidence in your abilities,” he continues. “You contribute to a committee and see that your contributions are impacting the greater community or association. That type of interaction eases one’s nervousness in getting involved in the larger community and really builds your sense of belonging."

Kelley explains that, by definition, an association is a group of people organized for a joint purpose. “By that definition, the only way it works is if people engage, and volunteering at its core is engagement. When you engage, you move from spectator to participant. Participants are always more invested in the outcome then spectators. When you participate, you belong and make an impact on individuals within the organization and also on the organization as a whole.”


There are some tremendous benefits to joining industry associations, and volunteering for them only serves to open more doors and enhance opportunities for personal and professional growth and learning.

Relationships are formed, skills are developed, careers are enhanced, and all the while volunteers are giving back to the associations to which they hold memberships.

Join an association. Get involved. Volunteer.

It’s not just a great way to help move your career forward, it is a wonderful way to give back, as well.

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