I found my "inner planner" in graduate school at Antioch New England University. I took a community planning class, taught by a planner from Keene, New Hampshire. I loved it so much that I asked the planner (who was an adjunct professor) to be my advisor.
From then on, everything I did involved planning: meeting planners, attending events, looking at jobs, etc. Thanks to this new obsession, I found myself at the APA National Planning Conference in New Orleans in 2001 at a Student Representatives Council meeting running for a position. Turns out, volunteering equals job opportunities!
While I was volunteering at an APA New England Chapter conference, I learned about an assistant planner job. Soon after, I had my first job as a planner in the Town of Bedford, New Hampshire. Over the next 17 years, I continued to volunteer by organizing conferences, serving on chapter boards, and even getting elected to the APA Board of Directors. Today, I am the president of the Massachusetts Chapter of APA and loving it.
You're probably thinking: This lady is a volunteer addict, but what did she get from it? A LOT! The following is my top 10 list of what I gain from giving back:
1. Management Experience
Being president of a chapter is like being an executive director: you manage people, budgets, projects, and a vision for the organization.
2. Problem Solving and Solution Sharing
Like our day jobs, issues arise while you are volunteering, providing opportunities to work collaboratively with your peers to create solutions.
3. Job References
Serving on boards and committees expanded my references. This helped elevate my resume in the pile of qualified candidates for several positions.
4. New Skills
I learned new tools, facilitation skills, and how to effectively work remotely.
Who connect me to others, help with career visioning, and inspire me.
6. Preparation for Next Career Move
I learned about consulting while volunteering for the Sustainable Communities Division. Volunteering with private sector planners taught me that consulting could be an opportunity to expand my impact as a planner.
7. Creation of a Professional Presence
Volunteering allows you to prove yourself as a leader and keeps you "top of mind." This is especially true in the consulting world or when new positions are created. People want to work with someone they know can do the job.
8. Exposure to New Ideas
Serving on committees exposes you to emerging issues and big ideas, sometimes before they are embraced by the planning community.
Access to people, who know other people, who can help you!
10. Friends Forever
Truly. I could travel across the country and know a planner in most states. I am proud to call so many planners my friends.
If this isn't enough to convince you to volunteer, I will personally meet with you to discuss how it can benefit you. Your life will never be the same as a planner, I promise!
Top image: Volunteer planners: Massachusetts Planning Organizations Legislative Team (from left), Kristina Johnson, AICP (MAPD president), Michael Zehner, AICP (MAPD legislative officer); blog author Angela Cleveland, AICP; and Steve Sadwick, AICP (APA Massachusetts Chapter legislative policy officer).
About the Author
Angela Cleveland, AICP
Angela Cleveland is the senior economic development planner for the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She has more than 17 years of experience providing a wide range of planning services, including land use, housing, economic development, and hazard mitigation planning in the public and private sectors. Currently she is managing a rebranding effort to promote the Merrimack Valley as a place to do business. Cleveland is president of the APA's Massachusetts Chapter and past president of the Massachusetts Association of Planning Directors. She lives in an old cotton mill in Lowell with her family.