One of the big issues I've seen with user groups is that they tend to succeed or falter based on the commitment of the chapter leader. It's the same with many other volunteer groups that I've worked with and it can be frustrating, especially when you are involved and believe in what the group is doing.
People often get involved with a group with the best intentions. I don't think I've ever seen anyone volunteer for a group and not want to do the best job they can. However things often seem to change and it's almost rare that an individual can make an organization succeed over the long term by themselves.
As I've seen many groups and volunteers over the years, I've observed that there seem to be some stages that people go through during their involvement.
The initial stage actually occurs before you officially volunteer, but if you aren't turned off immediately, then you are already somewhat involved. You're thinking about it. This stage is usually when someone asks you to become part of the group and you're not sure if you want to get involved. They could specifically ask you or you might feel invited by some piece of literature. In this stage you're investigating things, examining your own life or workload, and trying to determine if this is a good fit for you.
Hurrah! You've decided to volunteer and you're officially a part of the group. This is the time when you have lots of ideas, you are motivated, and you really want to devote as much time as you can to the group. You are usually a large group of people that bring fresh ideas and thoughts to the group, however many of these ideas aren't fully developed because you don't really understand enough about how things work.
In the Groove
Things are going well and you understand how things work, what's been tried in the past, what has not worked, and you are a part of the people that accomplish the majority of the work that keeps the group running. Hopefully this is the long term phase of your involvement and you can continue to contribute time and resources.
I think everyone goes through this phase at some point in their volunteer career. They might move in and out of this phase and the previous one, but here you are too busy with other duties in your life and forget or ignore your volunteer duties. You may pass them off to others or not, but in either case, the group suffers a little from your lack of involvement.
You are either running out of time or perhaps you have other opportunities, but you are starting to lower the amount of your involvement. You are starting to pass off duties and responsibilities to others. You might be burned out and have a bad attitude. You might be frustrated or upset about how the group is being run. You may or may not have announced you are leaving, but you are a lame duck in effort if not officially. If you don't end up in this phase, you'll be in the next one.
Volunteer groups do need lots of people joining the organization because there will always be a flow of people leaving. That's one reason that there is always an effort being made to recruit new people.
However the truly successful groups, the United Way, the Red Cross, and others, will hire and ensure they have a well-trained, permanent staff that can keep the organization functioning when there are periods where most of the volunteers are in phase 1, 4, and 5.
User groups don't have this luxury and if the chapter leader gets busy, then the group often suffers. After all, who's going to pay dues to give the leader some type of salary for their work?
I'm not 100% sure of how user groups will fit into the world moving forward. I do think there's a lot of value in having groups of professionals getting together face to face, exchanging ideas, helping each other, and getting some excitement for your career. In today’s busy world, it's hard to determine how much time you want to devote to a group meeting, but perhaps you can bring some ideas to your local group.
Volunteering doesn't have to be a permanent commitment. And it doesn't have to consume every spare moment of your time. Even little contributions can go a long way. Take a chance, ask or offer a small bit of your time and see where you can help your chapter grow.
Who knows? You might even enjoy it.
The Voice of the DBA
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