Engagement professionals invest a lot of time and resources in training volunteers, developing volunteer leaders, and coaching colleagues in how to work effectively with volunteers. If only we invested as much time, energy, and resources into developing ourselves as professionals! With increased workload and current inflation, professional development can all too easily be viewed as a luxury rather than as a necessity. Would we ever consider training volunteers or other staff as a luxury? I think not. Nevertheless, investing in ourselves as professionals all too often falls by the wayside. Yet, investing in ourselves as organizational leaders is vital to our personal and professional success – and this is true for me, as well as for our clients and colleagues.

For these reasons, whenever I attend a conference I always view it as an opportunity to learn and network. Most recently, that opportunity was the Points of Light 2023 Conference in Chicago, IL. Though it’s been a few weeks since I returned from Chicago, I am still processing the many highlights and learnings from this convening of volunteer engagement leaders from around the world.

Highlights included:

  • While standing in the check-in line, being approached by Robin Ingles, CEO of Seniors in Service, and meeting her in person for the first time, after working with her amazing team as they pursued – and were awarded! – Service Enterprise Certification. As wonderful as Zoom is, there’s still no replacement for speaking in real life!
  • Connecting with colleagues at the social event hosted by the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement and Better Impact on Wednesday evening.
  • Being inspired by Thursday sessions on “Strategies for Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Volunteer Program” presented by Joshua Rodgers of Habitat for Humanity International and seeing former clients Wsmah Siddiqui, Dima Akach, and Ali Mir of Islamic Relief USA presenting on the value of Volunteer Leaders.
  • Having standing room only in my Friday morning session on Equipping Staff for Success: Training Colleagues for Success, which clearly struck a chord with more than 100 conference attendees who recognize that high staff turnover rates and changing volunteer expectations make it more pressing than ever to train staff to partner effectively with volunteers. At the session, I shared not only tools to develop effective training curricula, but also helpful ways to integrate training tips into regular emails, designing job aids for colleagues, developing mini-trainings, and much more. Intrigued? Even if you weren’t at the conference, you can still download the mini-training guide from our Tools and Templates page on our website, just scroll down to the Training section.
  • In conversations at my session and throughout the three-day conference, reconfirming that many colleagues are still challenged by widely held myths about volunteer engagement. For example, when I asked if some of my session attendees believed that their colleagues were reluctant to engage volunteers because they feared being replaced by them, I looked out at a room full of nodding heads. While such challenges don’t exactly qualify as a “highlight,” knowing that we have a resource to help professionals embrace their role as a “mythbuster” to debunk such misconceptions as volunteers being “free” and thereby posing a threat to staff. Check out our new guest post on the Better Impact blog.
  • And, of course, simply being united with so many others from around the world who work every day to mobilize people to make a difference in their communities. This work is inspiring – but it’s also hard work, which makes connecting with others in the same field all the more important. But, being at Points of Light in person is not the only way to connect and learn.

Are you wishing you could have attended sessions? Fear not! Points of Light offers an on demand option with 15 sessions designed for online along with highlights from the live conference plenaries. It’s not too late to experience the conference.Are you seeking connection? Check out your local volunteer engagement professional associations, state conferences, and national or global associations and take advantage of the many virtual (and affordable!) opportunities to learn together and network.

Have questions? Reach out to us at VQ Volunteer Strategies and we can try to answer or direct you to others.