This is a two-part blog on the topic of volunteering and the benefits you and your company receive when employees spend work time on volunteer efforts. Since this is a blog aimed at the background screening industry, I’ll use NAPBS as the primary example for volunteer activities. But it can apply to many other volunteer opportunities. If your primary volunteer activity is taking care of animals at a shelter, I guarantee there are things you can take from that experience that will make you better in the background screening industry.
In this installment, I’ll talk about the reasons for volunteering—what you and your company gain from these efforts. In the next blog, I’ll cover how to maintain the delicate balance of sharing information when you volunteer. It’s something I’ve struggled with myself and something that new volunteers have asked me about.
Why Volunteering is Good for Your Career and Business
We are extremely fortunate at ClearStar that our CEO, and our various supervisors, strongly support our volunteer efforts. Several of our staff are on NAPBS Committees, work special projects, give presentations at conferences, host webinars, write papers, or sit on the Board (past and present). We spend countless hours each week essentially helping our competitors. Wouldn’t this time and effort be better spent focusing on our own business and our own clients?
Well, this time and effort is spent on our own clients, or at least benefits them.
Volunteering is a learning experience. You may have heard of the books or articles with titles like, “Everything I know I learned in Kindergarten” or “…From my Cat”. Well, I can say that about volunteering. Not everything I know came from my volunteer efforts, but a lot of it did (although, some also came from my cats), and these efforts sent me down paths that helped me learn other things. I would not know a fraction of what I know about global screening had it not been for the connections I’ve made in associations like NAPBS. People from all over the world took me under their wing and taught me about their country’s background screening culture and searches. But people will only give so much, if it’s a one-way relationship. You must give back. The more I volunteer and give to my competitors and network, the more they give back to me, my network, and our company’s clients.
If you don’t have time to volunteer, you are making your learning efforts much more difficult. Come to think about it, volunteering may save you time, since it makes learning that much more efficient.
Volunteering helps you gain expertise. Each time I give a presentation, host a webinar, write a paper, or conduct a training session for a supplier on a topic I’m familiar with, I must organize my content. This means I may need to go back and re-read the FCRA, or the GDPR or PIPEDA. I may need to look up information about the legitimate uses of consent in four or five countries or research the cross-border transfer requirements from Australia to the U.S. As thrilling as these topics sound, I would honestly rather read about Shackleton’s epic boat journey. If I have a co-author or co-presenter, I may need to have deep dive discussions with them on a topic. When putting together the GDPR presentation for the upcoming NAPBS Annual Conference, Kevin Coy (AGG) and I had several discussions on Article 10, Article 88, and the placement or lack of commas and the resulting impact on the interpretation of certain requirements. These conversations were fascinating. Imagine being able to spend all that time with an expert like Kevin, discussing these things. Since Kevin and I write out all the notes for our presentations, we must make sure our references and citations are perfect and applicable. The more I research and learn, the more experienced I become. I didn’t just wake up one day knowing what Article 88 of the GDPR was. I had to research, ponder, and debate it with my NAPBS network.
Volunteering gives you opportunities to practice. The National Park Service sent me to Trail School to learn how to build and maintain hiking trails and to supervise trail crews. This has nothing to do with global screening, does it? Actually, it does. Each time I lead a trail crew, I get experience leading a team. Sometimes it’s a reluctant team, like the college students who are forced to do community service. It’s my job to be organized, keep them safe, show them a good time (in a healthy manner), keep them out of the poison ivy, and be a good and interesting leader. Do we ever have reluctant clients? I sure have them, as well as reluctant staff who are not as thrilled about the GDPR as I am. But train we must. All that volunteer work with teens on hiking trails helps me get people on board with the joys of data protection.
Volunteering helps you build a network of resources. You’ve been told, I’m sure, that networking is critical to any career or job success. It helps your business gain business, helps you stay “in the know”, and can even be helpful if you need to hire someone or are in the job hunt yourself. I’ve mentioned the connections I’ve made through NAPBS. These are deep connections—some with competitors, some with suppliers, some with industry experts. If I need to know what is really going on in China, there are several people I can talk to. They may each give me a different perspective, but they are usually perspectives that I have not yet heard. And this is from people on the ground in China. If I want to know how thoroughly a particular supplier really works, there are people I can ask. But remember what I said about this not being a one-way relationship? I must do my part and also be a resource to my network. Several people, often competitors or people in the consulting fields, will call and ask me to explain something or show how something should be done. Having done that, I will have a stronger bond with someone I can rely on to help me with my questions.
Lastly, volunteering feels good. I’m a happier and more fulfilled person because of my volunteer work. I’ve helped people get jobs. I’ve helped candidates because I taught a competitor how to do something right. I’ve made a friend. Maybe I even got some exercise building a hiking trail in the 100-degree heat. How can you not be a better person after all of that? It makes me excited to work for a company that appreciates this.
To summarize: You can’t become great at what you do without others. I think our ClearStar team is great (shameless advertising—sorry). Part of what makes us great is the work we’ve done in our various communities and the relationships we’ve formed. Our team has a level of deep expertise in global screening, and much of that was built by engaging with NAPBS and other volunteer opportunities. I can honestly say that I would not be the person I am today if it were not for the volunteer experiences I have had. My volunteer communities have allowed me to make mistakes, to learn, to debate, and to grow.
A word from Bob Vale, our CEO on why he supports so much volunteer work from his staff:
“A profitable business should use a portion of its resources and its voice to the benefit of worthwhile non-profit ventures. It is the obligation of every business to be an agent for good, specifically in the community and industry that they reside in and service. A business that does not do good should not be in business. Every team needs to feel that they are participating and spending their valuable time on a worthwhile effort. If processes or systems are the heart of a business, then volunteer efforts feed its soul. It is invaluable.”
|Kerstin Bagus – Director, Global Initiatives
Kerstin Bagus supports ClearStar’s Global Screening Program as its Director of Global Initiatives. She has more than 30 years of background screening industry experience, working for a variety of firms, large and small. Kerstin is one of the few individuals in the industry who is privacy-certified through the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) for Canada, the EU, and the U.S.
Kerstin is a passionate participant in the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA, formerly NAPBS) and is a current member of the Board, in addition to participating on several committees. She also participates on IFDAT’s Legal Committee, with a primary focus on global data privacy.
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