What, Me Volunteer?

I know what you are going to say. “I’m too busy!” Being busy is an indicator of our business health but let’s put health in a broader context. We can make the pie (i.e., your life) just a bit bigger, as Fisher and Ury (1991) would suggest, by using an old negotiating tactic on yourself. Divide your life in four sections:

·       Family—to ground you

·       Work—to challenge you

·       Self Care—to support your physical and spiritual health

·       Community—to connect to the wider world

Because as consultants we spend a lot of time alone, working in our heads, community engagement is actually a survival strategy. Start by volunteering in your professional community. Why do we see so many of our senior colleagues at AEA and other evaluation conferences? Because they see their professional organization as a fabulous networking and learning opportunity. They routinely act as mentors, trainers, and committee members, all ways to continue their own professional development. Another great place to volunteer is in your own neighbourhood or city. Find a non-profit board to join or provide direct service to agencies such as a food bank or support line. The learning dividends are huge. You will develop better communication skills, see how an organization works from the inside, and understand more deeply the connections between organizations and their environments.

Getting to know community members you wouldn’t meet otherwise has subtle benefits as well. You can build your reputation, demonstrate your values, and model your work ethic just by being present, sharing a vision, and working on joint projects. You are actually marketing without even trying. In the long run, when these individuals think about evaluation, they will think about you.

So stretch out your hand and see who you can touch. Volunteering is time consuming and it comes with its own set of challenges but it adds balance to your life. Give without thought of reward and see what happens. And oh, yes, there is one caveat. Be prepared for a whole lot of friendship and fun! 

 Gail Vallance Barrington

Originally published in the Independent Consulting TIG Newsletter, Volume 6, Issue 4. December 2015.

Fisher, R., & Ury, W. L. (1991). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. New Your, NY: Penguin Group.
Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up & Management: A Guide for Evaluators & Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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