At a networking event given by IABC/Toronto’s Professional Independent Communicators (PIC), I shared why I volunteer, as did my colleagues Leslie Hetherington, Donna Papacosta, Barb Sawyers and Lee Weisser. PIC supports more than 100 independent communicators, offering professional development and networking opportunities that address our particular needs.

I’ve blogged before about the value of volunteering in earning referrals that help you diversify your business. At this event, we talked to the group about why we have volunteered for PIC in the past. Here are some of the thoughts I shared:

You can volunteer in an area you already know, which may help you more easily fit volunteering into your daily life. This also showcases your skills. For example, my volunteer activities often involve writing, which is what I do for a living.

You can volunteer in an area where you’d like to gain some experience or knowledge, or maybe something for your portfolio. I didn’t know much about e-newsletters before starting one for our group, and I was glad to learn more about them.

Volunteer in an area you feel passionate about or that has some importance to you. At the point where you’re thinking, “Someone should…” or “Why don’t they offer…”, that’s where you should also be thinking, “this group needs X and maybe I can help.”

Most of these organizations are only as good as their volunteers, and you shouldn’t wait for someone else to provide what you think is missing. I joined the board of PIC in 2004 because the group seemed to be floundering, and I did not want it to disappear. A 2007 Toronto chapter OVATION award is recognition that our volunteer work was able to make a difference.

Most indies get much of their work through referrals and repeat business. For people to be comfortable referring you, they have to be confident that (a) you have the skill and talent to do the work, and (b) you can be trusted to meet deadlines. That means you’ll make the referrer look good.

In my own volunteer work, I was able to show that I met both conditions.

I gained new business, from people I worked with directly in AIP and from people who read my writing in the newsletter, and I gained more visibility.

I also referred business to some of the people I got to know better through volunteering.

We all got to practice skills like leadership, teambuilding, time management and creativity, and we made new friends.

Sure, sometimes it got a little hectic trying to fit the volunteer work in with paying work, family and friends, but life is already a balancing act, isn’t it? I find it all works out, and maybe all you have to “sacrifice” is time in front of the television.

So if you don’t already volunteer, try it. Take baby steps. Offer to write an article for the newsletter, or take RSVPs for an event. You’ll make new friends, strengthen your connections and build your profile. And you’ll make sure that the events and organizations important to you will continue.

Just don’t sit back and expect someone else to do the work for you.