A Volunteer Story – Dede Walsh

Our next volunteer savors every opportunity to engage, enlist, and encourage her colleagues and friends to find the time to get involved, convinced that once they do, the rewards will be extraordinary.

Meet Dede Walsh, CMP, CTS, National Account Manager with Projection Presentation Technology (PPT) and volunteer for not one, but two professional associations (not to mention several ministries!). Dede’s job puts her in direct contact with numerous associations, which is why once she became a member of the PPT team in 2006, she quickly joined the membership ranks. And why she dove into volunteering just a year later.

Once you are engaged and getting something out of that involvement, it’s really is amazing. You feel like you’re doing it for everybody else, but you’re really doing for yourself. It feeds something within you.

Dede now serves as president-elect, membership chair, and marketing advocate for the Chesapeake Chapter of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), and as co-chairperson of programming (2 year term) for the Washington DC Chapter of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE). She is also a member of Association Meeting Professionals, Potomac Chapter of the Meeting Professionals International (PMPI), and the Capital Chapter of the Professional Convention Management Association.

Dede readily admits that her reason for joining each association was a bit selfish. Simply put, “It was a way to meet meeting planners.” Previously, she had little exposure to meeting planners and others in the hospitality industry outside the hotels she had worked in, and felt that in her new position it was important to expand her network. Once she decided to volunteer, a colleague suggested the membership committee as a way to connect with other members. Since then, Dede has become very passionate about the value of membership believing that the association did her a favor by pushing her in that direction.

Wearing so many hats means that Dede faces a number of challenges. For example, as programming chair, she often finds it difficult to spread the education net wide enough explaining that “programming needs to do a lot of things at a lot of times for a lot of people.” Another problem some chapters face are infrequent meetings, which can have a negative effect on membership. Determined to change this in one of her chapters, Dede set out to prove that without valuable programming, there is no incentive to join. Her hard work paid off and the chapter is thriving under a new programming committee.

As a board member, Dede is a strong believer that members need to see beyond their terms. It’s not enough, she says, to focus just on what’s happening during a board’s tenure; instead, boards must consider that today’s planning can and should help the association well into the future. Of course, being on the board is eye-opening for any volunteer. “Until you are on the board and on the planning side, you just don’t have any idea of what time and effort goes into making sure everything is perfect and the meetings are successful.” So how can she bridge the gap between perception and reality when recruiting volunteers? By being clear and concise on what the position entails, and not to be afraid to admit when something is not working.

Dede also realizes that time commitment is often the biggest reason for not volunteering, but she believes through careful scheduling and planning, volunteers can stay committed and be successful. Her advice to struggling volunteers? “If you plan and set priorities and if it’s really important to you, you can make it happen.”

As if Dede doesn’t have enough to do with her day job and her professional volunteer duties, she is also involved in several ministries, including the Baltimore Chapter of Marriage Encounter, a position she and her husband were asked to join after they attended a 2010 retreat. Inspired by their own experience, they agreed and now lead two retreats a year. She is also active with Adoration, Community, Theology and Service Ministry (ACTS) through her church St. Louis Catholic Church in Clarksville Maryland, and has recently joined the Catholic Daughters. A past board member of ACTS, Dede is currently enjoying her role as participant rather than a leader for now.

Dede knows she is lucky that PPT is supportive of her association involvement, not something that every member can say. Association membership, she believes, is especially important in this economy because the connections made go beyond the programs and basic networking. “We all need to know that people care about us. Plus it makes everyone feel good when you know you are helping others regardless of how small the gesture.” Something association memberships can and do provide.

Does Dede have any overlap between professional and personal volunteering?

“I think the problems are universal regardless of if it’s religious, social or industry-driven. I think we all struggle with the same problems. Getting people and keeping them engaged really seems to be the key to all success.” She adds with a smile, “If we could solve that question, we’d all be very wealthy!”

Want to share your story? Contact me at cblattau@marinermanagment.com.