Does your professional growth resemble this path to success?
Don’t be alarmed. Jason’s not a firebug. He’s a committed environmentalist, who took part in a prescribed ecological burn program for the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
That was back in 1999, shortly after Jason graduated from college with a degree in Resource Management. Jason’s best friend was involved with the city’s natural restoration program, where groups of volunteers would assist with prescribed forest burns to protect and restore native habitat.
“I loved volunteering. I loved helping out with the burns and I fell in love with the people,” says Jason.
That volunteer experience, which Jason enjoyed while serving with Americorps, eventually led to a seasonal volunteer manager position with the City of Ann Arbor.
Over time, the seasonal position was made into a permanent Director of Volunteer Management and Outreach role. In that position, Jason was able to grow his department to include six more staff working under him. That’s an impressive accomplishment in the nonprofit/government world, where volunteer engagement is often under-resourced.
Now, Jason is the Stewardship Coordinator for the Huron Watershed Council, an environmental organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his volunteers play a key role in monitoring the water quality for the region.
If Jason’s name is familiar to you, it may be because he’s been serving as President of AL!VE, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement. As with any nonprofit organization, Jason leads a volunteer board that makes governing decisions for the organization.
You may also know that AL!VE assumed an important role at the 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership. At the close of the Summit, AL!VE agreed to co-host two of the five priority actions intended to advance the profession: 1) to facilitate national group of influencers to develop a strategy to move the profession forward, and 2) to continue the planning for a follow-up Summit in 2018.
Needless to say, it’s a significant time to be leading an organization that is helping shape the national profile of volunteer engagement. How did Jason find himself in this role?
Jason says that his professional growth boils down to this philosophy:
If you commit fully to your career, opportunities will naturally arise. And if you take advantage of those opportunities, they will carry you further than you ever expected.
Take Jason’s current position with the Huron Watershed Council, which he joined in 2011. “As their first volunteer manager, I knew I would have to do some change management to build the volunteer program – I considered that a great opportunity.
“I wanted to create ‘Citizen Science’ volunteer groups,” Jason explained, “because I have seen similar organizations expand their data collection that way. To get the staff scientists comfortable with the idea, I shared examples of successful Citizen Science projects from other organizations. Then, I approached one of our scientists and proposed that we pilot this type of initiative. I identified a very experienced volunteer to serve as the lead. The scientist agreed, and the results have been incredibly successful. This scientist is so proud that his program has collected more data than ever before.”
Of all of the opportunities that Jason has created for himself, he sees his CVA certification as one of the most significant.
“It was really the CVA process that opened my eyes to volunteer engagement on a national level. The experience shined a light on the history and breadth of people who improved our industry and developed best practices. Just getting to know Katie Campbell [the former Executive Director of CCVA] helped to expand my horizons. She encouraged me to get to know the leaders in the field. “
“One time, I went to a volunteer engagement conference in Philadelphia. I knew that Susan Ellis lived in the area, so I reached out to her and we had dinner. We had a great time. Some of the advice that she shared has stuck with me to this day. Without the CVA, I would never have never connected with Susan.
“The leaders in our field are so willing to give as much as they possibly can – that’s powerful. You never know what might happen from those connections.”