‘Unpaid’ Doesn’t Mean ‘No Reward’

Check out this great article I found in the Washington Post by Patricia McGuire:

“She leaned forward, eager in her business suit, pen agitating above her notebook, salad untouched as she launched right into the “informational interview” about my career path.

‘So, how did you become a college president?’ she asked, anxious to embrace my recipe for career success.

‘I stuffed envelopes,’ I said matter-of-factly.

Her pen stopped in mid-air. She gave me a stony glance.

‘No, really, I want to be a college president. Tell me how you did it — what did you study, what positions did you hold, how did you climb the ladder?’

I put down my fork and smiled at her, conjuring my best conspiratorial tone.

‘Let me tell you my big secret,’ I said softly, as she leaned forward.’ I volunteered.’

Looking puzzled, she put down her pen to take a nibble of a roll. I encouraged her to eat — sustenance being essential for the stamina necessary in a presidency. As she munched, I launched into my story.

After I graduated from Trinity, I stayed active with our Alumnae Association. In the days before email, Facebook and Twitter, stuffing thousands of envelopes with invitations to events or appeals for the annual fund was a major volunteer effort.

I soon developed networks with the older alums who ran the stuffing parties. After a while, they invited me to join the volunteer board of the association. I stayed active with this group as I moved on into my professional career, and this volunteer pathway eventually led to my service on Trinity’s Board of Trustees, and in the end, my appointment as Trinity’s president.

Yes, I needed other skill sets, of course! It’s not just ‘who you know’ but showing what you can do very, very well that creates a successful career path. Demonstrating those smarts in volunteer roles is a great way to get ahead. My professional work as a lawyer and fund raiser gave me great experience, but through my volunteer roles I was able to show my skills to a much broader audience than my co-workers.

Along the way I learned the three most important rules for success through volunteering:

1. Raise your hand.

2. Show up early and often.

3. Do an outstanding job every single time.

Hmm. Aren’t these the same rules for professional life? Yes! Just because the work is unpaid does not mean it requires any less of your time, talent and commitment to excellence. Remember: ‘unpaid’ does not mean ‘no reward.’ In fact, some of the best rewards in my life have come through unpaid volunteer service.

Volunteering continues to be important in my work as Trinity’s president. My service on association boards, such as the American Council on Education, is a source of visibility for Trinity and ongoing professional development for me. Working with the board of the College Success Foundation puts me in touch with business leaders who share my passion for educating the youth of the city. I get a lot of vital ‘business to business’ networking done in my volunteer service with the Greater Washington Board of Trade. I especially prize my volunteer work with the Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital, Goodwill of Greater Washington, and the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region because these organizations share many goals in common with our goals at Trinity.

While career counselors often focus on getting the right credentials — diplomas and certificates to symbolize formal education and training — in fact, the smartest kid in the class will go absolutely nowhere without a great network. Some of the most successful networks are those we build by volunteering. The investment of time and talent, freely given to organizations that need your volunteer service, can have extraordinary returns in creating future opportunities for professional success.”

Posted by: Sharon Rabb, Project Specialist