Ramblings of a Volunteer Project & Program Manager

“Holy shit, what have I gotten myself into?!?!”

I had literally joined my local Project Management Institute (PMI) chapter 72 hours ago and already I was on my second conference call talking about a registration system for PMI events. The person at the volunteer desk at the event I attended told me there wouldn’t be a huge time commitment. So, I signed up for the team I felt best suited for, expecting a meeting here and there. Instead, it was a marathon of calls, emails, researching vendors, RFP creation, stakeholder interviews, and a whole host of other tasks. I finally yelled “Uncle” because it was impacting my job and life at home. This was my first volunteering endeavor since starting my professional career and it left a sour taste in my mouth.

Yet, within a couple years I found myself saying yes to a church council appointment for two years. Then volunteered to help a non-profit plan an event. Yet another church council once we moved to another state for three years. Then helping manage our local PMI and Agile practice groups. Then being a coach for another non-profit.

So many hours spent pro bono. And each one of them well worth it!

I’m a fan of volunteering. Some of the reasons I do it are:

  • Positively impact the groups I serve
  • Hone current skills and develop new ones
  • Meet new people and interact with individuals across different cultures, backgrounds and education
  • Opportunities to learn something new or try “stretch” assignments
  • Cohesive team environments (most of the time anyway)
  • Helps your self esteem seeing results
  • Create skills a future employer may be looking for (and quite frankly, they may be a volunteer also)
Volunteer Services - Pinal County

My time as a church council member taught me leadership, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills. PMI and Agile groups has allowed me to meet local peers, work with amazing speakers, learn a wealth of information, and the opportunity to present frequently. Coaching allowed me to be more strategic. I’ve been coupled with other volunteers in key leadership roles within their companies and learned from them, also.

That’s why when people looking to get into project management wonder where to start, I frequently recommend they get involved and volunteer with their local PMI chapter or other groups seeking a volunteer project manager. Through that process, you learn skills and can find a mentor to accelerate your career.

Even though my first volunteer engagement was rough, one thing I’ve learned is to be up front on my time commitment. Church council was a handful of hours a month over a few years. Whereas volunteering to plan an event was a lot of hours over a handful of weeks. You know your schedule and don’t over commit. Also, be transparent about what you want to do. If your goal is to manage a project for a non-profit, it may not be beneficial for you to do donor engagement (though, it could be a good learning opportunity).

One thing to remember is though volunteering can be a lifelong commitment, volunteering for only one organization is not. I can’t tell you how long to volunteer for one organization (maybe you do stay committed to one), only to make a change occasionally to gain new experience and perspectives. Each volunteer opportunity will offer new skills, challenges and experience.

If you’re seeking opportunities to learn skills, meet new people and make a positive impact, I highly recommend volunteering.

Calling all Volunteers!

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