You Want Me to Volunteer for What?

I will have the opportunity to speak at the Rice University Women in Leadership Conference on Friday, February 9, 2018. The conference is organized by organized by a committee of MBA women leaders. Its theme, “Deliberate Leadership: Forging Your Path With Purpose” resonates for me, because I believe it’s essential for women to have a strategy for their personal leadership development. I’ll be talking about volunteering as part of that strategy.

Having a Heart for Service

I still have a heart-shaped necklace given to my mother by my father when they were 12. It’s one of the treasures I salvaged when I had to condense my life into three suitcases. The heart necklace is a symbol of the love and affection that remains consistent when all else fails. It’s an emblem of the beating pulse of my parents’ youthful relationship that grew into a marriage that lasted a lifetime.

It’s somehow fitting that one of my very first volunteer roles was with the American Heart Association. My involvement with the AHA began in Richardson, Texas the same day my dad underwent successful open heart surgery. I went on to chair that group’s fundraising walks and galas for several years. I chaired an American Heart Association “Salute to the Texas State Legislature” event in Austin, and I lobbied for the AHA in Austin and in Washington, D.C. Years later, I was honored for my ongoing support with an American Heart Association research grant awarded in my name to a top researcher.

Volunteer leadership roles have been an integral part of my career. These roles, in service side-by-side with others, have helped me form lasting, invaluable connections.

Discovering Superpowers

We all have superpowers: God-given gifts, skills and experiences we can harness to solve problems and make a unique contribution. My experience volunteering with the American Heart Association made me aware that I possessed a special power to enlist support from others. My passion for the cause of heart health was genuine, because I knew the work being done could potentially help my dad and others in similar situations.

This experience came into play later at PKF Texas, when as a leader I had an opportunity to encourage my team to participate in volunteer activities. I asked them to identify causes for which they had a passion. When we can find an altruistic reason for helping others, we’re on fire—energized and determined—to support that cause.  

Serving as Strategy

When people look for volunteer opportunities, I guide them to find the gaps they could fill. This is where some strategy needs to be applied. Anyone can join a one-time fundraiser walk team or collect money for a cause. But here’s the question I prompt people to ask: “What skills do I need to get to the next level in my career?” Then look for roles that will allow you to develop those skills.

Seek out a committee that needs members and has leaders who are willing to help coach you through your role. When professionals serve in longer-term roles like event organizer, vice president of finance or program chair, they build skills for advancing their careers. And with genuine passion for a cause, they’ll gain visibility and position themselves for leadership opportunities at work, too.

Serving selflessly is not only possible, but necessary. Leaders and aspiring leaders must use their talents and position to serve others. Allow your “servant’s heart” to shine.

For a background on this blog, please see the Preface.