February 8, 2011

Lending a Hand in Your Professional Community

At the start of each new year, many people I know say things like “I want to help others this year,” or “I want to volunteer more.” I think this to myself, too, but when I do, I’m often I’m thinking about volunteering for various groups or people in the community where I live. Often I forget (and perhaps others do too) about the importance of volunteering in my professional community.

I feel extremely lucky to have professional editing groups like the Author-Editor Clinic and the 200-plus member Northwest Independent Editors Guild (edsguild.org) here in Seattle. Both of them have served me well as never-ending fonts of information, hubs for meeting peers, and places to sharpen my editorial skills. But I’ve also come to realize that entities like this usually don’t exist (for long, at least) without some measure of volunteer effort from their constituencies.

Take the Editors Guild. My first couple of years as a member, I’d simply attend an occasional bimonthly meeting, once volunteering to take notes—in return for a free year’s membership. Then for Guild’s first biennial conference, I was asked to give a noncompensated presentation on estimating, a common editorial skill, and one that I’d covered once or twice in small workshops with another editor. I was terrified at the notion of speaking in front of so many people; but I also thought: “Why me? Surely they can find someone else, someone better.”

Eventually I put aside these worries and gave the talk because, as I’ve come to realize, often it’s really hard for groups like the Guild to find “someone else.”
Later, when I was invited to join the Guild’s steering committee (now a board), I again had concerns that others might make a better asset. Yet I ended up joining the group, realizing that even the basic leadership skills I brought there are not only useful after all—but the effort is completely necessary in order for the group to continue to put together creative and useful meetings, conferences, workshops, and more. 

As this year’s Northwest Independent Editors Guild board president, one of my goals is to help members become aware of how much, and where, we need their volunteer efforts—to serve on the board or committees, help with special projects and events, or even host the annual potluck. We do have a terrific core group of volunteers, but their time and energy is limited, and we often risk volunteer burnout.

And with the Clinic, while it’s a different animal, early on I also put in some hours helping Barbara get the group off the ground because I wanted it to exist and be a success. And well, here I am putting in a bit of time blogging, because I want the Clinic to continue to be a great place for editors to learn and share ideas.

While professional volunteering can entail some work, it’s also often fun, and a terrific way to meet and interact with peers, as well as perhaps learn a new skill. 

So now I’ll ask you: where and how might you professionally volunteer this year?


  1. Great post, Kara! Seattle is a wonderful place to be a freelance editor because of people like you building something like the Author-Editor Clinic or the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. I feel really lucky to be here.

    And to add something from my point of view -- I've volunteered for the Northwest Independent Editors Guild's two conferences, and yes, my work supported a community where I can get information, meet peers, and sharpen my skills. (All of which I have done.) But volunteering also expanded my network of referrals and directly contributes to my freelance client list even years later. Because what do you do when you hear from a client that you can't help due to schedule conflicts? You refer that person to another freelance editor you know and respect.

  2. Great commentary, Kyra. Bolsters my idea in today's post too. Thanks!