When American Chemical Society members tell stories about volunteering, what kind of stories do they tell? Some tell stories like these:
"I left the meeting room for a minute, and came back to find that I'd been elected section chair."
"When I became chair of our local section, a big cardboard box with 'records and things' showed up, and that was about all the introduction I got. So, I spent the first six months as chair reinventing the wheel and trying to get my bearings. By the time I felt even slightly confident, my term was over."
"I worked as a committee of one--if something was going to get done, I had to do it myself. Nobody was interested in the grunt work. Well, frankly, neither was I."
Anyone who has spent time working as a volunteer can add to this list of war stories. But what about the stories of successful activities, energized volunteers, collegial communication, and, most of all, fun? Who tells those?
Last month, more than 250 ACS volunteers gathered in New Orleans for three days of intense leadership training. The conference--a masterpiece of organization--consisted of five tracks running simultaneously. One of the major thrusts of the conference was teaching ACS leaders how to maximize the experiences of volunteers in hopes that these techniques will lead to positive stories and increased satisfaction with the ACS experience.
The tracks were for local section chairs-elect, chairs of ACS committees, division officers, regional meeting coordinators, and local section career service coordinators. Leaders of local section technician affiliate groups were also on hand. In years past, training conferences for these groups had been held separately. This joint conference aimed to take advantage of the synergy between groups and the economies of scale.
The stated goal of the conference was to establish a dialogue that supports the development of successful ACS leaders through the following:
* Identifying the value and benefits of being a volunteer leader to leaders and their employers.
* Developing leadership, management, and communication skills.
* Acquiring knowledge and sharing best practices through networking with other ACS leaders, governance, and staff.
* Discovering the variety of resources and programs available to ACS leaders.
* Having fun through engaging and interactive sessions during the conference.
Interspersed between sessions of information specific for participants doing particular jobs were joint sessions dealing with concepts of leadership, budgeting, and ACS structure and governance. Joint sessions were headlined by ACS leadership.
ACS President Charles P. Casey, President-Elect William F. Carroll Jr., and ACS CEO and Executive Director Madeleine Jacobs were introduced to participants and shared some of their philosophy of ACS and answered questions. ACS Board Chair James D. Burke gave presentations on budgeting and on the new ACS Strategic Plan. And ACS Secretary Flint H. Lewis gave an overview of ACS and, for certain groups, an expert's overview of the perilously ignored "Robert's Rules of Order."
"This was the first conference I've attended where so many of the ACS local leaders as well as elected leaders were present. It was a wonderful networking experience," says Kara M. Jackson, GlaxoSmithKline chemist and National Chemistry Week coordinator of the Memphis Section.
Jeffrey Cufaude, an experienced leadership coach with Idea Architects, Indianapolis, got participants thinking about the concept of leadership and maximizing the value of volunteers to the organization and the value of the organization to volunteers. He sketched out several models of leadership and challenged participants to develop their own.
THE NUTS-AND-BOLTS sessions of the conference aimed to prepare each participant for the year ahead. For example, local section officers learned to prepare annual reports and budgets, committee chairs learned how to run productive meetings and to tap the expertise of their ACS staff liaisons, and regional meeting planning chairs worked with ACS Meetings and Communications Department staff to learn about publicity and technical programming.
In all of these sessions, you could find veterans who brought the most important quality to the conference: experience.
Former section chair Les W. McQuire, Novartis chemist and now councilor for the ACS North Jersey Section, tells C&EN: "ACS has everything you could want; you just need to know where it is. This meeting helps people find what they need."
And connections were made. "As an organizer of the Great Lakes Meeting for 2006 in Milwaukee, I found the ability to meet with emerging local section chairs particularly valuable," says Thomas A. Holme of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. "I was able to network with many of the local sections from which members might attend our meeting. We'll still do surveys to find interests in the area that we might otherwise overlook, but it was a great head start to have face-to-face meetings with several people about our meeting already," he says.
Virginia Duya, chemist at Shell and chair-elect of the Greater Houston Technician Affiliate Group, summed up many participants' experience: "With the networking that went on during the sessions, good collaborations between two local sections nearby are possible. I learned that some of the problems we have encountered were encountered by other local sections."
She adds: "I think the most memorable part was the Saturday night when a group of us went out to see the parade. We stood with the crowd for almost one-and-a-half hours, and there was no parade. It was memorable because there we were--we just met approximately 32 hours ago, and yet we bonded like teenagers trying to get some fun out of the city."