Volunteering is a great way to feel part of a community—whether it's professional, geographic, or personal. In this article, I'll explore some key benefits to volunteering. While the experience I'll discuss is primarily in the editorial space, I imagine these concepts could be applied in any industry.
Volunteering Helps Build Community
When I first entered the freelance editing world, I didn't really know many other peers in the field. I was still learning about setting up a freelance business and my prior professional experience had been in a different industry. I knew that I would need to continue to learn and meet people to feel comfortable navigating freelancing life. I decided to join a professional organization to start things out, so I signed up to be a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA).
When I joined the EFA, I read all the welcome emails from the organization and joined the discussion list. Some EFA members even reached out to me personally to welcome me; and I began to ask them questions and add them on social media. I learned of regional chapters within the organization and joined Southern California chapter groups to get involved. I introduced myself as a new member at the chapter meetings and everyone was really welcoming. I even asked some people if they would be willing to take a call with me so I could ask questions about their experience freelancing. Essentially, I was a sponge.
In that first year, I got an email about a "Welcome Program" at the EFA, which paired members who were more established in the organization with "newcomers" from historically underrepresented groups in the editorial world. The goal was to provide the newcomers with some one-on-one connections and to help them start building community. I jumped at the chance to be in this program as a newcomer, especially since I'm a person of color from an underrepresented group in editing.
I learned the Welcome Program was all volunteer led, which made it even more meaningful to me—I saw those who worked in the program as genuinely dedicated to pay it forward and increase diversity in the organization and editorial space. Sure enough, I was accepted into the program as a newcomer and was paired with an amazing welcomer. The whole experience was so valuable; I got one-on-one support from someone who was more experienced in the space than I was and I was able to ask questions in a supportive environment. At that point, I was on the receiving end of volunteer services, and I was so grateful.
So, within my first year as a member in this professional organization, I worked on building a mini network and I was feeling more and more a part of the freelance editing community. I felt more at ease that I followed my intuition to start a freelance editing business (during COVID). I was feeling more empowered, skilled, and connected. At that point in time, I had been volunteering my time reaching out to people and signing up for a program to help me grow.
Volunteering Allows for Personal Growth
Lo and behold, after that first year, I was asked if I wanted to be a (volunteer) co-coordinator of the Welcome Program! (The program that I was part of as a newcomer wanted me to help them co-lead it!) Intuitively, I knew this would be a great opportunity—so I said yes.
I think it's important to note that I would have never been asked to co-coordinate this program if I hadn't participated as a newcomer in the first place. And I doubt I would have been asked if I hadn't brought genuine authenticity and curiosity to my learning.
I believe that volunteering allows for personal growth. It teaches you to advocate for yourself and identify what cause you are willing to work on for free; which I believe is an indication of what is truly important to you.
To date, it's been about two years since I said "yes" to volunteering as a co-coordinator for the EFA Welcome Program. I've met so many people in the program and now serve as a (volunteer) welcomer to newcomers as well. I understand more aspects of freelancing because I know more people and talk about it more. I host Zoom socials and continue to build community. More people know who I am (which I think is pretty cool since a few years ago I was brand new to the field).
And guess what, I started to volunteer more. When my schedule allows, I do in-person volunteering, such as working an author event or a book festival (as seen in the first photo of this post). I continue to grow as a person with these volunteering opportunities. I meet more people and am exposed to different aspects of the editorial world. It's interesting because without knowing it, I was utilizing some of the networking tips that are talked about in the book Networking for Editors, by Brittany Dowdle and Linda Ruggeri. It feels pretty great how I aligned with best practices and do the work that I love.
Volunteering Helps You Align with Your Authentic Self
By identifying what you want to be part of with more clarity, doors begin to open toward that path (IMO). By taking part of something that is bigger than yourself, it is inevitable that you learn and grow as a person in the process.
To me, the journey I'm most proud of is the one toward my authentic self. And volunteering has helped me explore my interests freely and intentionally.
As I continue this blog, I will write about this journey toward authenticity that I reference. And when I look back and reflect on the tools that I used in my career pivot, volunteering is up there in importance. I hope this article helped you get some ideas on how volunteering can benefit you (and others if you pay it forward).
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