Benefits of Volunteering for Your Association

By Marion Rhodes
CTA Social Media Director

It has been almost a year since I took up my position as social media director for the Colorado Interpreters & Translators Association. This has been my first experience with an ongoing volunteer job, and I can tell you that it has been rewarding in so many ways.

I had been a member of CTA for a few years before I became its social media director, but I hadn’t really experienced the full benefits of my membership. Sure, I had enjoyed the professional exchanges on our email list, but I had felt no particular connection to the other translators in our association. When I became social media director, I was anxious about attending my first CTA social get-together (our annual holiday party at the beginning of the year). I had only attended one or two CTA events in the past – workshops that were subject-focused and during which I barely engaged with my fellow CTA members, arriving just in time and leaving as soon as the workshop was over. So yes, I was nervous.

Socializing as a job

I’m an introverted extrovert, so I don’t enjoy networking, small-talk or events that drop me into a room full of strangers or near-strangers. However, if socializing is part of a role I have to play, I’m on it. That’s why I had no problems in my previous job as a newspaper reporter approaching a CEO in a room full of executives. In my private life, I’d hang out at the perimeter and wait to be spoken to.

I credit our Vice President Thais Lips with helping me through my first official CTA function. She assigned me a very specific task: hand out bead necklaces to arriving members and tell them about a social game we were playing that evening. This forced me to approach each and every one of our guests, gave me a starting line for a conversation, and therefore put me at ease. I had a job to do. I had a right to be there.

After that, I felt much more connected to our association. I now knew many of the faces behind the names on our email list and had actually talked to most of them. If I hadn’t become social media director, I likely wouldn’t even have attended this dinner (I live too far away! I can’t leave my kids for that long! The roads are too icy to drive!), let alone talked to as many of my colleagues as I did that night. It was a turning point in my CITA membership.

The moral of the story is this: If you are not comfortable among people you don’t know, becoming a volunteer will give you a sense of purpose that can help you overcome that anxiety.

Building colleague-like connections

There are other benefits to volunteering, especially if you are a board member. We all know working as a freelance translator can be rather lonely. We don’t have in-house colleagues, and we don’t develop in-depth connections with many of our fellow translators. Serving as social media director has filled much of that void. The CTA Board doesn’t meet all that often (once every few months), but we do have very frequent interactions via email or Skype, which makes it feel like having colleagues on the job.

Being informed and having a say

Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but I like being informed about things that are happening in our association before everyone else. I get to participate in the planning and decision-making processes, which means I have a say in the development of CTA. I am also always informed about everything that’s going on in our association, even many things that I might have missed in the past because I didn’t read every email that was sent out on our mailing list. By knowing everything CTA does and offers, I have learned the true value of our association, both for our members and for our profession.

Establishing professional credibility

This year, I went from being Marion Rhodes, freelance German<>English translator, to Marion Rhodes, freelance German<>English translator and Social Media Director for the Colorado Interpreters & Translators Association. I’ve added this title to my resume, my LinkedIn profile, my email signature and various other professional documents and profiles. Having this title adds to my credibility. My clients and prospective clients can see that I am professionally involved and that I take translation seriously. It is not just a hobby for me, it is a calling. A title from a volunteer position helps build your resume and adds to your marketability.

Expanding your horizon

Even though I was fairly familiar with social media and had studied Integrated Marketing Communication in college, I still had a lot to learn when I started as social media director. My new role made me get serious about Twitter and LinkedIn, for example, both channels where I had established profiles years ago, but which I had never really used. I also learned about Hootsuite as a way to combine social media accounts and make posting updates easier. And finally, it gave me the push I needed to start blogging regularly. I had started my own blogs a few times in the past but never got past the first one or two posts. As CTA social media director, writing regular blog posts is part of my job, and once I got into the routine, I finally had the discipline to keep up my own blog as well.

The dirty details

I won’t lie to you: taking on a regular volunteer position also comes with some drawbacks. You do have to make time for board meetings, which for me means driving from Colorado Springs all the way to Denver. But these meetings only happen once every few months, and can usually be combined with a trip to IKEA.

Depending on which position you hold, there’s also a time commitment that impacts your own schedule. In my job, I usually spend about 30 minutes a day on researching translation-related news and articles, updating social media channels and responding to inquiries. Writing blog posts takes quite a bit longer, but it’s something I enjoy doing so I don’t mind. If you are interested in any volunteer position, your best bet is to talk to someone who has held the position in the past or is currently serving in that capacity and ask about the work involved.

If you’re a CTA translator who isn’t ready for a long-term commitment, there are other ways to volunteer for CTA, such as helping with our annual conference or filling a time slot at the CTA desk during this year’s ATA Conference (you can sign up here). You’ll still reap many of the networking benefits, so this is another great way for more introverted members to get involved.

Personally, I find that the benefits of volunteering for CTA have been worth the effort I’ve put in. Over the past year, I have become a better translator, a better colleague, a better networker and a better social media user. If that’s not enough, consider this: Research suggests that people who volunteer are healthier and happier than those who don’t. So if you don’t do it for your association, then do it for yourself.