Gael Spivak and Lisa Goodlet—Volunteering as professional development (EAC conference 2013)

Gael Spivak and Lisa Goodlet are both seasoned volunteers, for EAC and beyond. They shared some of their insights on the benefits of volunteering and tips to get the most out of your volunteering experiences.

Volunteering, said Spivak, is a good way to get training. She quoted the 70/20/10 formula for learning:

  • 70% comes from real-life and on-the-job experiences, tasks, and problem solving
  • 20% comes from feedback and from working with role models
  • 10% comes from formal training.

Getting professional development from volunteering is like getting it from a course, only you’re paying with your time rather than with your money.

Volunteering lets you try something new without having to worry about getting fired. Goodlet told us that one of her first introductions to editing was when she volunteered as a proofreader for Project Gutenberg. You can also use volunteering to test whether you’d be a good fit for a particular type of job or career. Both Spivak and Goodlet emphasized the importance of asking for feedback on your work, even when you’re volunteering.

If you work alone, volunteering can give you team experience and let you meet valuable contacts. If you work in an office and aren’t in a management position, volunteering can offer you the opportunity to gain experience that you can’t get at work (strategic planning, project management, etc.). You can branch out beyond your usual skill set and develop negotiating skills and flexibility (since volunteer-run groups can sometimes move slowly and have different or evolving hierarchies and reporting systems). Goodlet quoted an HR consultant in suggesting that you shouldn’t separate your paid work from your volunteer work on your CV—experience is experience.

Spivak told us that, as conference co-chair in 2012, she learned about marketing and communications; in her many other EAC volunteer positions (director of volunteer relations for EAC, EAC governance task force member, National Capital Region branch membership chair), she has gained experience that she couldn’t get at her job and at her current level, including coordination, strategic planning, and policy development, which are promising to open up new opportunities and roles for her at work. Beyond her volunteer work with EAC, Spivak also writes, edits, and serves as webmaster for Not Just Tourists—Ottawa.

Goodlet said that she got her first office experience through volunteering, which allowed her to get higher-paying summer jobs than she would have gotten otherwise. As NCR branch membership chair and 2012 conference speaker coordinator, she made a lot of valuable contacts and gained project management experience. By volunteering, Goodlet also learned about herself: she’s discovered that she’s better suited to in-house positions rather than freelancing. She also volunteers as a Girl Guide leader and Humane Society foster parent.

If you decide to volunteer, said Spivak and Goodlet,

approach it strategically

  • Do you want to get better at something you know how to do or learn something different? Understand your goals before you plan how to achieve them.
  • Do you want to gain or improve a specific skill (e.g., indexing, medical editing)? Look for organizations that deal with these areas and see if they have volunteer opportunities.
  • Do you want to do something at the branch level or nationally? You can have input on how an organization is run by volunteering at the national level.

approach it consciously

  • How much time do you want to spend? Don’t overcommit yourself.
  • Do you want to volunteer long term or for a one-off project or event?
  • Are you interested in the opportunity? Just because the opportunity is there doesn’t mean you have to take it.

Approach it creatively

  • What are the secondary benefits of the volunteering opportunity? Making contacts, helping others, or simply getting out of the house are all good reasons to volunteer.
  • Do you want to use your editing skills or branch out into other areas? Some people don’t want to do for a hobby what they do for a job.

Spivak added that EAC is developing a new volunteer directory that will connect people to volunteer opportunities at the branch and national levels. People can register in the directory and specify what kinds of opportunities (short- versus long-term, branch versus national) they might be interested in, and this information will be shared with committee chairs who are looking for help.


(A reminder that volunteering for EAC in an editorial capacity can earn you credential maintenance points for certification, precisely because volunteering can be enormously instructive professional development and make you a better editor.)

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