Getting involved with your professional association: Why & How (feat. Crystal Shelley)

Serving your professional association as a volunteer makes you more visible to your community and helps you to develop new skills and network with others. 

There are clear and obvious benefits to volunteering in service of vulnerable populations. In addition to the benefits you can bring to others, volunteering can also be good for you: if you google “why volunteer,” you’ll come up with posts claiming that giving time and expertise to others provides both physical and mental benefits. Studies have shown that volunteering can help to reduce stress and, relatedly, to alleviate symptoms related to anxiety and depression. Beyond these positive mental effects, volunteering allows you the opportunity to learn new skills, meet people, and expand our networks–socially and professionally. 

But what if you’re not serving food to the hungry or helping to find shelter for people who are homeless? What are the benefits of volunteering for a group of your colleagues, especially when you are new to a particular field or career? To answer these questions, I turned to Crystal Shelley of Rabbit with a Red Pen Editorial Services. Crystal is a fiction editor and authenticity reader living in Salt Lake City, and she’s an avid volunteer.

Could you please tell me a little bit about yourself and your editing work? 

Hello! I’m Crystal, a fiction editor and authenticity reader. I mainly work with self-publishing authors, and I do some work for publishers too. I’ve long been interested in social justice and advocacy work (I practiced as a licensed clinical social worker before I started my editing business), so I teach about anti-oppressive language, harm, and representation issues in various aspects of my editing business. I love that I get to bring advocacy work into the one-on-one work I do with authors, and that I can share it with the editing community through webinars, courses, and resources like my Conscious Language Toolkit for Editors.

Which organizations have you volunteered with and what prompted you to get involved? Did you actively seek out volunteer opportunities?

I volunteer with ACES: The Society for Editing on the Communications Committee and on the Board of Directors and with the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) as a member of the Diversity Initiative. With ACES, I was approached by another editor about joining the Communication Committee and then encouraged to run for the board. With the EFA, I saw an advertisement for the Diversity Initiative in the newsletter. I knew that volunteering with these organizations could be good opportunities for me to give back, network with other editors, and be more visible in the editing community.

You joined the Board of Directors at ACES at an early stage in your editing career. What do you think ACES gained from having an editor with a bit less experience sit on its board? Has your role on the board changed over the years? 

I think I’m like many folks who join a professional organization because they want to learn skills, meet others, and advance their careers. Not only was I a new freelance editor and business owner, but I was also someone who moved into editing from an unrelated field. I feel like I bring additional insights because of my focus on social justice work and how the work that editors do can support inclusiveness and diversity initiatives. I’ve only been on the board since April 2021, so I’m still learning and finding where I fit into the bigger picture, but I love that I get to play a role in advocating for members’ needs.

Could you speak to the difference between being actively involved in a professional association as a volunteer and passively participating (such as attending meetings)? 

Being a volunteer who actively participates in the organization takes more time and effort than passively participating. Volunteers often have to commit to attending meetings and doing whatever work the role requires, whether that’s organizing logistics, running meetings, or making strategic decisions for the organization. For example, for the ACES Communication Committee, I was participating in meetings every other month, helping edit or proofread the newsletter, and working on committee initiatives. Even though doing these things took time out of my day, I felt proud that I was giving back to ACES.

But as much as organizations get a lot of value from their volunteers, volunteers get so much back as well. Being actively involved seems to be one of those “you get out of it what you put into it” things. Volunteering can help you become more visible in the community, meet others, or even create change in the organization (depending on the volunteer position). When you work with others on a shared project or event, you see one another’s natural responses to stresses and unexpected turns – you get to know others’ real selves in a way that’s hard in small talk over coffee or in a panel presentation. If you see someone handling a stress or a challenge well in one context, that can make you feel like they probably handle themselves well in other contexts too. So volunteering with others can help you develop more authentic professional relationships as much as it can help you to build your reputation as a competent, hardworking, thoughtful professional. It helps you to really show that you have initiative and want to have an active role in the profession.

Can you give any advice about volunteering for someone new to the game? 

Volunteering doesn’t have to happen right away. I joined ACES and the EFA as a member, not ever thinking about volunteering, and I didn’t even realize that volunteering was something I could do at first. Ask about what opportunities exist in an organization you care about, and see if you can find something that seems interesting or fulfilling. Otherwise, it might feel like a chore to be volunteering for the sake of volunteering. 

In closing: 

Volunteering is a non-billable part of a freelancer’s job. Depending on the volunteer role you choose, getting involved in a professional organization can allow you to build networks with people who share your interests, to stay current with developments in your field of expertise, or to learn successful marketing techniques. 

Although volunteering is a non-billable part of a freelancers job, it is time well spent. You will be working on your business–building your reputation, showing yourself as competent and professional–not just working in your business by doing the work that provides you with a pay cheque.

Crystal has conscious language toolkits targeted specifically for writers and for editors. If you are interested in Crystal’s editing services, or want to learn more about conscious language, please connect with her through Rabbit with a Red Pen Editorial Services or LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply