Amber W. Countis is Director of Prospect Research at Norwich University. She is past president of NEDRA, and a member of the board of directors.
Why I Volunteer
Why do I volunteer? This is a question I probably should ask myself more and one that my husband and friends and colleagues sometimes wonder about as I go to another meeting or participate in another conference call. Why would I voluntarily agree to do extra work for no pay? Well, if only it were that simple! I think it is part of my DNA at this point. NEDRA is not the only organization that I actively volunteer for currently. Each volunteer opportunity has taught me something (or introduced me to people) that has improved my work as a volunteer, board member, and employee for other organizations. I think my desire to give back is partly related to the industry we work in. I see the great work and impact that our nonprofits have on the community and the world and want to help. However, I also volunteer because of what I get out of it! My motives are not entirely altruistic. A quick online search for “benefits of volunteering” revealed 14.8 million results, so I must not be too far off or the only one who feels this way. I have always credited my community service and volunteering in college with helping me land my first job in development after graduating. The experiences and exposures I had as a volunteer were seen as transferrable skills to working in the nonprofit world. My involvement with NEDRA specifically, similar to other organizations I support, has continued this trend and been a great benefit for me personally and professionally.
In the fall of 2005 when I relocated from New Orleans to the Boston area, I saw NEDRA as a way for me to meet and expand my professional network in my new community. I was also excited to join a local development research organization that was active and well-respected; eager to learn more about the organizations and people that made up this NEDRA community; and motivated to build my own research and management skills and expertise. Finally, my boss was a NEDRA board member at the time so she was supportive of my interest and involvement. So in the spring of 2006, I attended my first NEDRA Conference in Providence, Rhode Island, and eventually got involved with the then offered Mentor Program. Even though I was fairly new to NEDRA, I had enough research and development experience under my belt that I was able to offer guidance and tips to a newcomer to our field (down the road I would hire that mentee and see her later join the NEDRA board!). I also became a regular attendee at programs and conferences and by 2007 I was volunteering as a conference room monitor and writing for the NEDRA News. In 2008, I was promoted at work and now responsible for more direct reports. I then started working with the NEDRA Programming Committee helping to organize RINGs and other educational programs. My organization hosted a few programs which were easy for me to coordinate and also offered an opportunity for more of my colleagues (even some outside of research) to attend due to the short commute. For the 2009 conference, I was a room monitor chair and elected to join the NEDRA board of directors as secretary.
Fast forward five years and I am now starting my last year on the board. I look back at all we accomplished together and feel fortunate to have been a part of this time in NEDRA’s history. I was able to co-chair the conference twice (including during our 25th anniversary year), serve as vice president, help launch the Heather Reisz Memorial Scholarship, and serve as president for the last two years. Each of these experiences taught me something about collaboration, managing time and people, budgeting, delegating, accountability, public speaking, relationship building, and more (not bad souvenirs to bring back to my office). Each of these experiences also made me so thankful for the amazing volunteers, staff, and members who believe in our mission and are very willing to work without pay to help further our organization for the next 25 years and beyond. I honestly have left every board meeting excited about the ideas and energy of our board members and where we were driving the organization. I am thankful to each and every person that I volunteered and have served with on the board over the last five years. Thank you for all that you do!
I encourage you to consider volunteer opportunities with NEDRA (and other organizations you care about). I am certain that you will benefit from it just as much as the organization does!
Check out http://www.nedra.org/about-nedra/volunteers to learn more about volunteer opportunities.
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