Volunteering Begins with the First Step

April 14, 2022 | By David Ong

Group of People

TAGS: best practices, career development, member voices, personal devlopment, volunteer,

It’s April, which means it’s National Volunteer Month, a time when we recognize those individuals who have lent their time and expertise to make the world a better place. April is also that time of year when NACE sends out its annual Call for Volunteers. As the current President of NACE, I feel privileged every day to lead an organization with members who are driven by their mutual love of helping students within higher education discover their career passions. That said, as committed as I am to NACE now, it took me awhile to get to the point where I was actually willing to step forward and volunteer. As I have previously written about (Raise Your Hand: Volunteerism), I was a pretty reluctant volunteer after having spent 10 years as a somewhat idle NACE member.

So why exactly did I wait so long to get involved? Let’s take a look at those reasons (and debunk them, with help from some of our stellar NACE volunteers):

Rationalization #1: “I am too busy with my day job”—Let’s face it, volunteering doesn’t pay the bills. But one thing I clearly didn’t understand back then is that there are certain benefits to volunteering that enhance my ability to perform my professional duties. Current co-lead of the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Affinity Group Luis Amaro of MThree reminded me that “tying NACE objectives and responsibilities to my day-to-day business responsibilities has allowed me to allocate enough time to ensure that I can still share ideas, participate in discussions, and advocate for equitable change through NACE and then carry that over as an internal advocate within my company.”

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Dr. Calvin Williams at Indian River State College is co-chair for the Mentorship Program Enhancement Task Force, and he pointed out how the NACE volunteer experience has helped him to expand his professional network, saying that volunteering “has allowed me to network with NACE colleagues while also moving the organization forward” and “is a great way to network with peers while having an impact on the future.”

Rationalization #2: “It might infringe upon my personal/family time”—I always thought that volunteering for NACE meant that I would have to give up some of the things that I loved to do on my off time, such as playing golf, hitting the beach, and traveling … and to be honest, I might not have had the same amount of time to do some of those things while serving as President of NACE. But I found that as I got more involved, my social circles started to intersect with my NACE circles. There are people whom I have met through my volunteer duties who I truly think of as extended family, a sentiment that is echoed by current NACE Strategic Positioning of Career Services Task Force co-chair Kelli Smith from Binghamton University. “Hands down, the biggest reward is meeting some of the most incredible colleagues and people I now consider incredible friends. There are people in this field who would drop everything for one another, and this network has sustained me in terms of work throughout the pandemic,” says Kelli.

Rationalization #3: “I’m just one person … How can I make a difference?”—I played this one over in my head a lot, and I hear it frequently from members who are trying to figure out how best to contribute their talents to NACE. I spent a good amount of time over the last few years with members looking for advice on how to get involved. Kelli reminded me of the value of seeking advice from NACE leaders. “I got up the courage to go up to a former NACE president many years ago after a large presentation at the NACE conference to introduce myself and say how I'd love to get more involved. I felt I finally had the capacity at that time in my work and personal life, and my involvement started from there,” she recalls. She began by writing blog posts for NACE. For Calvin, it was getting involved with the NACE Career Readiness Task Force, while Luis first got involved through an affinity group.

While we all had different paths (my first assignment: being a part of the conference committee), we all came to the same conclusion, which is that we can all contribute ideas and efforts that propel NACE (and, ultimately, our professions) into the future. Calvin says, “The work of our volunteers is vital to NACE’s progress, and I wanted to be a part of the overall process. Having an impact is important to me.”

Ultimately, my advice to all of our NACE members is simple: DON’T BE ME! Don’t let some of the concerns expressed above be the things that hold you back from volunteering. There are SOOOOOOOO many ways to volunteer these days, from writing a Member Voices post to serving as a mentor to developing NACE content to serving on a committee to engaging with an affinity group. Take the leap of faith and get involved. Whether you do it for a year or 10 like me, I promise that you won’t regret it, and I am betting that the rewards from the experience will more than make up for the time that you invest.

In closing, think about heeding the words of Luis, who says that "The best advice I can offer to anyone considering volunteering is if you are serious about creating equitable change, learning from thought leaders, and helping to create positive change, then just DO IT!”

I can’t say it any better, Luis.

David Ong is a vice president, talent acquisition for MAXIMUS Inc, a professional services firm based in Reston, VA, whose mission is “Helping Government Serve the People” by providing program management and consulting services to government agencies focused on public healthcare and social services programs. In his current role, he oversees talent acquisition activities related to university relations, diversity and inclusion, veterans, and disability recruitment, as well as guiding recruitment activity for Maximus operations in Europe, Canada, Asia, and Australia. Prior to joining MAXIMUS in 2004, David managed campus recruiting programs for Capital One, Citigroup Corporate and Investment Bank, and Booz Allen Hamilton. David has also served in several leadership capacities for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). He has completed terms on both the NACE Board of Directors and the Executive Committee, and in July 2021, he assumed the role of NACE President. David is a proud alumnus of The University of Richmond (Go Spiders!).

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