by Amanda Selm
People often ask me, “Is really worth your time?” “Why are you putting so much energy into something when you don’t get paid for it?” Over the past nine years, I have experienced life in a volunteer organization on both ends of the spectrum, the positive and the negative. What exactly have I learned in these past nine years? We are all human beings with feelings and emotions investing blood, sweat, and tears into something we love. If we are putting these long hours into something we love, can we get paid for it? The answer is … yes, we can, and here is how that works.
In a normal job setting, we have positive incentives such as raises, Employee of the Month contests, advancement opportunities, and in some cases Employee Spotlights. In a typical job setting, we work with others on projects, report to a team leader, and problem solve. What is the difference between our normal and/or typical job and a volunteer organization? We get paid for the 40 hours of work. Is it possible that we can get paid in a volunteer organization for the (in some cases) almost 40 hours per week we put in for our state and special-interest affiliates, local chapters, and ACB committees? The answer is … yes, we can. However, it is different kind of payment system, one that is good for the mind, body, and spirit, and one that can truly affect our mental health and well-being.
The first way we can pay each other for our hard work is through compliments. It is my firm belief that a compliment can change a person’s mood, and it can give a person the self-esteem needed to just fight even the smallest battles. A compliment given correctly using a person’s strongest trait is like a shot of espresso or B-12. It gives you the energy to keep going. I’m speaking from personal experience both on the receiving side, and the giving side. Compliments are truly impactful and have lasting effects. In a recent ACB Next Generation board meeting, we completed an exercise in building each other up by filling up our emotional bank accounts. The exercise itself took two hours complete with 10 board members and 4 committee chairs, but it was exactly what some of us needed to keep going and working as a team.
The second way we can pay each other for dedication is through recognition and gratitude. I’ve been told that I tend to go overboard on the thank-yous and the recognition; however, I blame my Southern hospitality on that one. As president of an affiliate, I make sure that even the smallest details are highlighted. I did this when I was the convention committee chair for the Kentucky Council of the Blind as well. I never forgot to thank even the kids who helped roll the silverware for our meals, or that person who always had those much-needed phone numbers memorized. It’s the recognition and the gratitude that keep people coming back and staying involved.
The third way in which we can pay each other for our commitment to ACB and our affiliates is to continue to pass on our wisdom of the subject which we have the most knowledge in. Education, real-world experience, and knowledge we obtain as we grow as leaders can transform the way we educate others and ourselves, both the leaders that have come before us, and those that will come after us. Imposing your wisdom is indeed one of the ways you can set someone up for success. I’ll use my personal experience as an example. I am a kinesthetic learner, meaning I learn by doing. I tell people in Kentucky that I have learned more from Carla Ruschival about planning an event than a college course in event planning will ever teach me, and it’s simply because I had to do both the learning and the planning at the same time. I will also admit that I do not always understand the language of constitution and bylaws amendments or resolutions, but I’m grateful for the people who do, like John McCann and Gabe Griffith. We were not created to know everything, and that is the best part about passing wisdom on to others. What makes things even better is when someone is grateful that you took the opportunity to share your knowledge with them.
The fourth way that we can pay each other for endurance is through encouragement. When we know we have leaders that are struggling with issues both organizationally related and personally related, words of encouragement can fuel their endurance. It is as simple as saying, “I am here for you, and I believe in you,” or “I know things look bad now, but you can do this.” The COVID-19 pandemic has created a rather dark and depressing situation for some of us. It has created a world where people struggle to find the light and warmth. If we lack the ability to encourage each other, then some of our fellow leaders and members may never see that light and warmth that is the good of the world. This is not why I joined ACB. I joined ACB because someone encouraged me, and I instantly felt the warm embraces and saw the bright future for what I wanted to achieve. Encouragement is the key to getting others involved and keeping them involved, and it is a game changer for sure.
The fifth way we can pay each other for our service and lending our talents is to simply listen. We need to listen, both to each other and to our own hearts. Listening helps us to learn more about what we do not already know, and learn more about each other. We now live in a world where it’s easy to respond rather quickly. What if we just stopped, took a deep breath as I tell my daughter, and practiced some empathy before we hit the reply button? What if we just listened with patience before we responded? It might create peace between people, and it might create a positive environment where we can communicate more effectively. Listening is the key to all above and more.
The sixth way we can pay each other for our time is to step back and step into faith. You know those younger members in your affiliate, the one that are waiting to help. You have trained them well, you have watched them grow in their leadership skills, and you watched them fail and get back up again. Now it’s time for you as their guiding force, their teacher, their mentor to step back and step into faith. They can do it! If they need help, they will ask, and just like that, you have given them a huge boost of confidence to get the job done.
The seventh way other for our priorities is to understand that everyone has a different perspective of their state or special-interest affiliate, their local chapters, and ACB. Some people I know have been involved since they were children whereas others are brand new. Some people see this as something they can do leisurely whereas others see this as something serious. At the end of the day, no matter where our priorities lie, we all care about these organizations. We all care about the growth, the functionality, the mission, and the people in these organizations. Understanding each other’s perspective may better help us to understand a person’s decision-making process, as well as their opinions on certain subjects.
As I conclude, I will provide you my answers to the first questions I stated in the beginning. “It is really worth your time?” My answer is and will always be “yes.” “Why are you putting so much energy into something when you don’t get paid for it?” My answer is “because as an affiliate president, I know that I’m making an impact on ACB, and that my heart leans towards bringing up the next generation of ACB leaders.” Go forth and pay it forward. You owe it to your members, your fellow leaders, and yourself to pay people for their time, talent, and treasure.