A Volunteer’s Story: Kelley Gillespie

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This time, we talked with Kelley Gillespie, special event planner and president of GEM Events who splits her time between association volunteering with International Special Events Society-Greater Washington Chapter (ISES DC) and philanthropic volunteering with the March of Dimes and her children’s school The Langley School in McLean VA. Kelley looks to volunteering as a way to connect and stay connected to her profession and her community.

I feel passionate about ISES DC and March of Dimes, but there are different motivations for volunteering. ISES DC is about networking and keeping up-to-date on trends in the special event industry while March of Dimes is philanthropic, purely a way to give back to the community.

Kelley joined ISES DC in 1996 at the invitation of several colleagues. At the time, ISES DC was the only association dedicated to the special events professional, so she saw it as an opportunity to get to know others in the industry. For the first few years, her involvement was sporadic. Then in 2004, she was asked to serve on the board. A strong believer in volunteerism, she readily agreed, and since that first ‘yes,’ has served as VP of Membership (2004-2006), President Elect (2006-07), President (2007-08), Past President (2008-09), and Co-chair for the 2009 Expo.

Kelley’s involvement with ISES DC allows her the chance to get to know others in the special events planning community, the chance to continually learn about changes in the industry (i.e., the newest products), and the chance to connect with vendors necessary to her own success. She’s the first to say that she gets as much from the association as she gives.

On the personal side, Kelley is an active board member with March of Dimes Maryland – National Capital Area since 2004. Her tenure has included communications chair and events chair. She currently serves as the Division Chair of the Washington DC Division. Kelley became active with March of Dimes as a response to her own experiences of having a premature baby in 2000. Again, she was asked to serve on the board, a chance she quickly seized wanting to give back to an organization that helped her with her own struggles. Finally, Kelley is quick to help out in her children’s school since her oldest entered pre-school several years ago. Kelley describes her volunteer work with March of Dimes as a way to give back to a medical community that saved her son’s life. Likewise, her volunteerism with her children’s school is a way to connect with the school community and show her appreciation for the school’s mission.

Regardless of the differences between her reasons for choosing to volunteer for each organization, Kelley finds the experiences rewarding on all levels. During Kelly’s time as president of ISES DC, the chapter won an ISES International award for the 2007 Expo. This was especially thrilling because it meant the whole chapter was recognized for the collective efforts of its members. On the philanthropic side, as Event Chair for March of Dimes, Kelley successfully increased the size and scope of one of their main fundraisers, Signature Chef Auction, by doubling the proceeds and tripling the size of the committee. Kelly served as chair for four years, and has spent the last two as an active member on the committee.

Now Kelley, who joined each board after being asked, is doing much of the asking encouraging others to volunteer, and trying to find ways to keep them engaged: “There are people who volunteer and people who don’t. I always have, and as someone who is now trying to recruit, I’m interested in what is it that makes people volunteer. I’m also interested in seeing what kinds of people volunteer and how they are connected to the organization. Finally, when I talk to people on the committees, I ask them ‘why are you motivated and how can I keep you motivated?”

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