What was signing up to be a volunteer like?
Getting started was easy. After completing a brief profile, BVU staff walked me through levels and time commitments of engagement and we determined four key areas where I felt I could best extend my expertise. She then explained the different ways to volunteer and that the 1-hour Ask the Expert sessions were a great way to “dip your toes in” the skills-based volunteer waters. Driven by curiosity and a desire to be able to speak to friends and colleagues about what skilled-based volunteering was, it was an easy sell to start out with one Ask the Expert session. But after my first session, I was hooked! The nonprofit partner was so grateful and appreciative of my help, I was truly able to understand the perspective of what it meant to be a skills-based volunteer. This was a different experience, being that guide and partner that provides insight, knowledge and best practices. The best part was that I was able to do it from home and didn’t have to worry about an hour-long commute.
Why do you volunteer your time in this way?
I didn’t know what I had to give until I did the first skill CONNECT program. I’m always excited at the end of these “Ask the Expert” sessions. The nonprofits are so grateful and thankful. Nonprofit leaders are great at leading their organizations, so being able to help these professionals improve in areas where they don’t have expertise is so rewarding. When you work in a specific field every day, you almost forget that what you have IS a valuable asset to others without that skillset.
Do you feel like you learn anything while volunteering?
Every organization is different and I learn so much by listening. Listening to their challenges, how they’re thinking through their mission and opportunities – I get exposure to such interesting and diverse perspectives. This really is a two-way street: I’m gaining knowledge and growing my skills by consulting, while helping these nonprofits grow and improve. It’s also an opportunity to connect to someone you might not otherwise meet. I’ve been exposed to people from so many different walks of life and diversity of thought by volunteering with BVU.
What else do you want people to know about Skill CONNECT, “Ask the Expert”, and volunteering?
There is a real human element to this. This isn’t about getting on a call and telling someone what they should be doing. There are deeper human-to-human connections: understanding their challenges, learning about the mission of the organization, hearing how they envision success. You become a sounding board for someone who feels like they’ve reached a wall in their progress forward.
Do you do any other service in the community?
I currently serve on the board of Summit Artspace, the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber and PechaKucha Akron. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m also a member, advocate and frequent patron of The Nightlight, Akron’s own hidden gem.
Stephanie Smith is the Strategic Communications and Engagement Manager at Bober Markey Fedorovich.
Join Stephanie as a skills-based volunteer on the BVU skills-based bench. Fill out this quick questionnaire form today to get more information.