Volunteer Work – My Laboratory for Learning

History Symposium Annual Conference

There are several organizations for which I volunteer.  I do this because they are meaningful to me and I know my involvement can contribute to their success.  Along the way, I have discovered that there is much to be learned in terms of business skills through volunteer work.

Take an example, learning to lead.  How do you convince people to follow you and do work to support you in a volunteer setting without having the “boss” card to play?  If they do not like what you are practicing and no longer show up, what kind of a leader are you?  You learn in a hurry!

Read more: Volunteer Work – My Laboratory for Learning

I would also like to look at the learning and development of new digital skills.  I will use the example of my work with the History Symposium.

We went from utilizing personal email accounts and basic materials and a whole lot of manual work.  Through COVID and as our online audience scaled, we found it was not sustainable.  We also ran into issues where our emails to our mailing list saw our email accounts being blocked as SPAM generators.

We also had goals of projecting a more professional image and building a brand.

Briefly, this is our journey and the tools that we used!

Online Hosting:  we had to shift to an online event in the face of multiple lockdowns.  I had participated in online events hosted on a standard Zoom account and they seemed rather clunky and awkward (Can everyone please mute? Can everyone turn off their cameras so that we only see the presenter?).  To elevate to Zoom’s webinar platform it was extremely expensive and we are constantly striving to keep our expenses to a minimum.  Our solution?  We used my corporate Zoom account to livestream to our YouTube channel.  The cost to do this (assuming you have a basic Zoom account) is nothing.

YouTube:  this was a whole wild frontier that we knew nothing about.  We have come a long way but there is still much to learn!  We set up our channel and ran a couple of trial live talks and were very pleasantly surprised by how well they went.  Then we discovered that we had to really go to work to set up our channel to make it a safe and respectful environment for our speakers and our audiences.  We disabled comments.  For the live chat during our live streams, we setup filters to block obscene words and comments.  We augmented this by adding our own “block” words.  You can find universal block word lists by an internet search, but the exercise will leave you feeling very dirty.  We also disabled the posting of links in our live chat.  There are hackers who try to hijack the management of your channel or viewers’ computers with heinous links.

From there, we had to learn how to organize, curate and promote the content on our channel.  We have come a long way but still have a way to go before we can monetize the advertisements that YouTube run on our content.

For us, one of the big advantages to hosting live streams on YouTube is that the live stream is also recorded and archived on YouTube so that the content is always available.

Visit our YouTube channel here.

Email Marketing:  as mentioned, we encountered a challenge with emails getting blocked as spam.  We chose a free account with MailChimp as our means to communicate with our mailing list.  Emails from platforms like MailChimp or Constant Contact get through because their unsubscribe rules are very rigorous.  If someone clicks on “unsubscribe” they are gone from your mail list on that platform.  There is no way you can add them back in! Past emails/campaigns can be easily edited and updated to create a new one.

Graphic Design:  we had established a goal of creating a more professional image and to develop our brand.  A big part of this effort was creating professional looking graphics to support our promotional efforts.  I use my corporate Canva account to create the posters for our talks as well as the banner images for our various platforms.  We have been thrilled with the impact.

Event Management:  it was a lot of work managing our online efforts, particularly reminder emails or responding to peoples’ inquiries around how to access the upcoming talk.  We turned to Eventbrite.  For us, because we are offering no charge (free) events, there are no fees or charges coming back from Eventbrite.  We can create a registration page, customize the confirmation email, and program the reminder emails.  We put the link to our YouTube channel in all of these to make it as easy as possible to find our live stream as it happens.  From Eventbrite, you can also integrate to your MailChimp account so that new registrants are imported automatically thereby constantly updating our mailing list.

Impact:  just like in a business by adding in automations and integrations our efforts were substantially simplified.  The shift online and marketing efforts, primarily on social media platforms has seen our mail list increase five times.  As an added benefit, somehow, we have become a global entity with guests having registered from 50+ countries!  For a typical YouTube channel our results are modest but we now have close to 50 videos on our channel with 730+ subscribers and we have accumulated over 32,000 views of our content!  With a revamped website, our YouTube channel, our efforts at branding and our marketing efforts, we have become a known entity.  This has made it much easier to recruit high profile and extremely knowledgeable and accomplished speakers enhancing the overall quality of our efforts.

Summation:  all of this is volunteer activity supports a goal of bringing quality history content in the most affordable fashion to as many people as possible.  We have achieved that, and we continue to build on that goal.  But in doing so, I have gained considerable insight and knowledge into many new digital skills which I can also apply in support of my clients and also managing my own business!  Who knew that volunteering could also have profound business benefits?


  1. Pat Schaump on February 3, 2023 at 12:34

    Great Content as always Tom! Happy New Year!

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