Get on board! Making the most of your IABC membership through volunteering (yes, really)
by Heidi Abramyk
My IABC story
I have been involved with IABC as a volunteer for over five years. Initially, I became a member by way of a transitional student membership. If I’m being perfectly honest, I had no idea what a professional membership could really do for me. I was looking for a job and was fresh out of school with few connections. I moved back to Saskatchewan from BC and felt very much out of touch with the industry as I hadn’t graduated from the local university in Saskatoon.
While applying for jobs, I saw several job postings that noted membership was an asset. I thought that, with a pretty tight student budget, the student membership was quite affordable. As a shy self-proclaimed introvert, I didn’t know where to start to make the most of my membership. The thought of a larger gathering right off the hop felt very intimidating.
Fast forward. I didn’t attend any events during the time of my membership. I let my membership lapse. (I hope for any fellow shy or introverted folks like me – if and when you do join and would like to meet someone in person before going to an event – please reach out to our membership director or members such as myself and we can help you!)
Coming back into the IABC fold
A few years into my career, I felt like I was in a bit of a holding pattern. I knew that if I wanted to continue to grow and progress in my work, that I needed to keep up with professional development and network. So, I decided to go back to IABC. This time, I made sure I volunteered and challenged myself to get more involved. It’s funny to think what a difference a few years can make. I have progressively grown with the chapter from a non-board volunteer as a community manager to a director of membership (a role I had no idea about), vice-president, president, and now past president.
Some roles were more of a time commitment than others. As time went on, I got better at carving out my time, balancing my life and commitments, and making sure I was not burning out as a volunteer. I would recommend having an honest conversation with yourself about your time commitments while keeping in mind the potential benefits that volunteering can bring. As I reflect back on the past five or so years, I would wholeheartedly recommend volunteering for the local chapter, investing the time to give back to the local communications community, and most importantly — investing in yourself. Here I will outline some reasons to volunteer and some benefits you can gain from volunteering, based on 5+ years experience doing so.
Three reasons to volunteer
1. You will make the most of your membership by volunteering
You may have heard this before. I had too. I didn’t necessarily believe it until I started volunteering. As a former membership director, I had often been asked what a membership can do for someone. It really depends on the person as to how much they will use it. In university, you don’t pay tuition and expect a degree to magically manifest (how perfect would that be, right?). The same thing happens with a professional membership — it gets you in the door but you decide what you make of it. Your membership can’t network for you or get you to attend PD events. It’s not a passive thing. Once you get your membership, you have to attend networking events, PD events, provide feedback, and give back to the local communications community. If you do that, the benefits I will outline below will come to you in leaps and bounds.
2. You will grow as a communicator
As my previous story illustrates, I witnessed a tremendous amount of growth. I was a shy (and still am to a certain degree) and non-confident communications professional that felt a whole lot of imposter syndrome. I networked, I attended events, and I learned through different chapter roles as well as getting more involved with IABC. I moved up roles in my career (which I know these new skills and confidence had a role to play). I’m confident that if I can see growth that you can too.
3. The local communications community is what you (and we) make it
If we don’t have volunteers on the board and helping out with the chapter, then there could be no local chapter. The local volunteers are the lifeblood of the chapter. If no one steps up, then the chapter is left to possibly close up shop. And the more volunteers, the more beneficial programming we are able to offer and the lighter the load on volunteers if we spread it out.
Heidi’s top 6 benefits of volunteering for your IABC chapter
There are many benefits for volunteering with our chapter and below are the ones that I would most recommend to members when they are wondering about volunteering:
1. Grow your network
- It’s an incredibly supportive environment.
I used to feel like I had to be in competition with other communicators. I don’t know why I felt that way but I certainly don’t feel that way anymore. It’s an incredibly supportive environment and I have met so many wonderful people. As I have mentioned, I am introverted and shy. At my very first Dare to Lead conference in Regina, we were asked immediately to sit at a table with people I didn’t know (an introvert’s worst nightmare). I did it (and I survived!). I met so many great people from chapters across western Canada and I am so glad I did it. We even did an escape room together and participated in the famous Dine Arounds. I never would have done these things if left to my own devices, so thank you for pushing me IABC colleagues!
- You can grow your local and global network.
You can build your local network, which has immense benefits. Volunteering will certainly set you on a path to network with the board, local chapter members, and other chapter leaders from the region and, potentially, your global network (yes – IABC is global!).
- Connect with volunteers in similar roles in other chapters.
By attending Dare to Lead (a benefit for board members), or through your local chapter region, you can connect to a board member from another chapter in a similar role to compare notes or support each other. Or, as to my point above about it being a supportive environment, you can just go to the chapter website and reach out to chapter leads that way.
2. Show leadership
- Demonstrate you are ready for that next level in your career.
If you want to be in a leadership role someday at work and move up to that next level, showing leadership on a board is a really great way to demonstrate that you are able and ready for more responsibility and that you have what it takes.
- Hone your leadership skills in a safe environment.
It’s one thing to want to be a leader and demonstrate leadership and it is another to practise it. Whether it is for work, or just wanting to give back as a volunteer, by volunteering you will learn how to hone your leadership skills and develop your leadership style in a safe environment. Demonstrating leadership with volunteers is great experience to have.
- Become a mentor or coach to another communicator or volunteer.
When volunteering on the board, you could be working with other volunteers. It’s a chance to demonstrate leadership, yes, but also to be a mentor or coach to someone else. It’s an opportunity to help others grow and maybe even be the colleague you wish you had when you were just starting out.
3. Make some comms friends
Communications can sometimes be an isolating role. Unless you work in a larger organization, you may feel like you are on an island as the only one (or few) in your role in your organization. Sure your colleague in accounting knows what it is like to work in your organization, but do they really get the importance of a communications plan and SMART goals? With volunteering you can gain a great opportunity to feel connected to other communicators like you.
This has a whole host of benefits and opportunities. You can:
- Meet people at the same stage in your career to help push you or benchmark with each other.
- Meet more senior communicators (and if you are lucky you can make a mentor or get some coaching).
- Just make more friends!
- Meet people who understand what it is like in your role, someone to bounce ideas off of; or you can just help each other out.
4. Strengthen your experience in areas you may not be exposed to at work
- Try a new skill you may not use in your work.
It’s true that as communicators we may not necessarily be dealing with numbers or, depending on your role, get experience with booking speakers or planning events. Taking a board or volunteer role that is different from your role at work will give you experience in a new area (and you can list it on your resume too!).
- It’s a safe place to practise and learn these new skills.
In addition to the previous point, when practising this new set of skills in a new role for the board or volunteer position, you are in a safe place to try this new skill out with other colleagues on the board or volunteers cheering you on or willing to help you out.
- Grow your soft skills, specifically in adaptive capacity.
Employers also like the soft skills (those intangible behavioural skills aside from the technical skills). Trying new roles, new tasks, and something new can help you build the skill of adaptive capacity, to be more able to go with the flow and not be afraid to try new things. I can confidently share that I often would say that I didn’t like surprises or when things weren’t all planned out (as communicators of course we live by the communications plan). Now with my time with IABC, after creating a mentorship program, planning networking events, and leading a chapter in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic came into our lives, I am now much more amenable to the unforeseen winds of change with work or life. I’m much more open to trying something or creating something even if I don’t have all of the answers. This has helped me in many areas of my life!
5. Get a closer look at what IABC offers and what it can do for you
- How IABC works from the chapter level, regional level, and international level
Until I was closer to IABC and volunteering, I really didn’t have the grasp that I do now of the structure of IABC (International, Regions, Chapters). IABC is a worldwide organization and there are many facets to it. There is an International office that keeps everyone together and is basically the “mothership”, the Regions such as Canada West, Canada East help to provide additional programing and support for the chapters, and the chapters that we interface with more directly are the volunteers that are the boots on the ground making sure the chapter is running smoothly. Our local chapters offer networking, professional development, and more to local chapter members.
- Understand what IABC’s products and services offerings are more deeply
All of the work that International, the regions, and the chapters offer different products, services and support (thank you to everyone at all of these levels for the work that you do by the way) wasn’t as straightforward to me because there is a lot! I highly recommend checking out the blog about membership benefits and the handy infographic our chapter created as well to make sure you understand what the products and services IABC offers that you may not be aware of. If you have any questions about them, please reach out to our membership director.
All of this to say, until I got up close and personal with IABC, I didn’t really get to understand all of the different programming and people behind the scenes making it possible. As a non-volunteer I’m not sure I would have been able to delve as deep into the organization and appreciate the magic that is created by all of the people that volunteer to make it so.
- Ability to participate in PD (beyond the chapter PD)
Another huge benefit to being a board member are the professional development opportunities offered by IABC. Dare to Lead is a regional conference for chapter board leaders organized by the Canada West Region. During my time serving on the Board, I have been fortunate to attend two Dare to Leads, one in Regina and one in Edmonton. They were both fantastic opportunities to learn about IABC, leadership, and network with other communications professionals. For those looking to take on the role of the president track, IABC offers the Leadership Institute. Before the pandemic hit North America, I was extremely fortunate to visit the beautiful city of Austin, Texas and meet chapter leaders from around the world as well as participate in sessions to help me prepare for leadership both professionally and for my chapter.
6. You can get CMP or SCMP maintenance points for volunteering.
For those certification holders looking to get maintenance points, volunteering on the board can get your 10 points!
Are you interested in learning more about volunteering?
I hope you consider volunteering for our chapter. You don’t have to go all in right away. You can start by volunteering in a smaller capacity for one-off events, or even take on a non-board role. I started as a non-board volunteer and my progression in the chapter progressed. I was glad I took it slow and was able to balance my time commitments accordingly. As I take some time away from the IABC Saskatoon Board to give others a chance to volunteer and reap some of these amazing rewards, I hope that you consider volunteering. I hope that you are able to explore what your membership can offer when you volunteer for our chapter and help to make our local chapter of communicators that much better.
Learn more about non-board volunteer roles (if a role is not listed on our site, please reach out and we can find space for you)
Dare 2 Lead 2019 Edmonton
IABC Saskatoon Strategic Planning Session with Board 2019
Dare 2 Lead 2019 Edmonton– IABC Saskatoon Board Members
Volunteer Recognition – 2019
Volunteering at CommuniCon 2018
IABC Saskatoon Fall Kickoff 2018
IABC YXE AGM 2019
Photo credit: Will Tigley
Leadership Institute, Austin