By Tom Unger, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA
Oregon Chapter Volunteer Coordinator (and past chapter president)
First in a two-part series.
I had worked as a news reporter for 10 years when I decided to change professions in 1989 and seek employment in public relations. I was living in Los Angeles at the time. I didn’t know anyone in the field or practically anything about the skills I would need to succeed in my new career.
I did two things though to get up to speed as quickly and economically as possible:
- I went back to school and earned a “Professional Designation in Public Relations” certificate from UCLA Extension.
- I joined PRSA.
And as one of our previous chapter presidents, Barbara Kerr, APR, Fellow PRSA, advised, I didn’t just join PRSA, I joined in.
I not only became a PRSA member, I also started going to as many of the L.A. chapter’s professional development events as possible, regardless of the topic. I figured the $25 admission fee I was paying for each event was a lot cheaper than taking a college class.
I also started volunteering for the L.A. chapter. I continued volunteering for PRSA when I relocated to the Portland area in 1995.
Reflecting now on my many years of service to PRSA, I have to conclude that the one person who benefitted the most from my volunteering was me. Here are the five reasons why:
- Networking – I connected with numerous communications professionals with whom I would have not met otherwise. Some of these pros were senior members of the industry in Los Angeles. Once when I walked into a job interview, I already knew two of the panel members from my involvement with PRSA (and I was offered the job). I was also able to obtain letters of reference from senior professionals for future job applications.
- Reputation – Through my work for the chapter, such as writing newsletter articles and helping organize special events, I was able to demonstrate my communications skills to other members in a way that just isn’t possible by simply showing up at chapter functions. I thus enhanced my personal reputation.
- Opportunities – I didn’t have any leadership opportunities at my day job when I first started out. But through volunteering for PRSA, I was able to lead committees and organize events. This gave me much experience I would use later in my career.
- Economics – When I first joined PRSA, I was working as an intern at a public relations agency in Pasadena. My salary was $5 an hour ($200 a week). I sure didn’t have much disposable income. By volunteering for PRSA events or by offering to write a post-event article for the chapter newsletter, I was able to usually attend functions for free or at a deep discount.
- Relationships – It’s one thing to connect with others on a professional level, but volunteering for PRSA has also provided me many, many lifelong friends. This type of relationship is invaluable and goes way beyond the networking stage.
I hope you’ll consider volunteering for our chapter. There are so many different opportunities. Want to know more? Reach out to me at (503) 213-0327 or firstname.lastname@example.org
In the second part of this series, Tom will describe best practices for volunteering.
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