There are various ways to influence your industry and professionally develop your skills, and sometimes it takes working for free. Volunteering provides planning professionals great opportunities to shape the industry and grow themselves.
There are an array of organizations that have plenty of opportunities for professionals to help. To name a few, Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), SPUR (in the Bay Area), American Planning Association (APA), and Association of Environmental Professionals (AEP). These organizations shape how cities and communities are planned and built. They send letters to government officials, develop guidance for professionals, set up workshops, create conferences, have community boards, and puts out news. You can help these organizations do this and help shape their message and meet colleagues and create partnerships. For example, I am researching and documenting mobility hubs role in enhancing sustainability and livability in communities for ITE. I work with top professionals in the transportation industry around the world helping me gain diverse perspectives of my profession and enhance my writing skills.
There is also intrinsic value of volunteering. Volunteering has shown to bring happiness to people’s lives by doing good for the community (that can be a local community, ITE community, or the world). People also feel more socially connected, warding off loneliness and depression. Several studies by United Health Group found that when people volunteer, they feel mentally and physically healthier.
Volunteering for young professionals entering the workforce shows prospective employers they can bring tremendous value to the organization. As a hiring manager, when I see young planners with little to no experience, but with a lot of activities involved in the industry, I know this person is serious about learning and growing and I want to hire them.
So how can you get involved in volunteering activities? Here are some strategies:
Most larger cities have many in-person events where you can meet the existing volunteers and get a sense of what future activities are upcoming. You can ask, “I’d like to help with the organization, are their specific duties that I can help with?” or “what sort of activities does your organization need help with?”. Check out my events page here for exciting events I will likely attend.
2.Email Organization Leaders
If attending social events is not your strong suit, like myself, email the leaders in the organization that are aligned with your professional interests. I recommend emailing board members, even specific board members who are completing specific tasks. This helped me tremendously find challenging and inspiring projects.
3.Sign up for email blasts and newsletters.
Organizations typically use their newsletters or email lists to send out opportunities for volunteers. By signing up for these email blasts, you easily put yourself in a situation to receive information about what the organization is researching, doing, and advocating for. This helps understand whether this organization is aligned with your highest values and goals, and if there are any opportunities you are interested in.
4.Ask your colleagues
If you are already in the workforce, ask your colleagues if they are involved in any organization. I recommend asking those colleagues who you look up to and are high-achievers. That person may already be involved and could help you get a position to volunteer. Most people want to be generous, so just ask the question because the worst that can happen is they reject you.