“We Needed This!” and Other Takeaways from the #2017NationalSummit

Guest post by Liza Dyer

Opening Session at National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership

Do you remember the first time you felt understood as a leader of volunteers? Or when you realized that you’re not alone, and that other people experience the same challenges as you? Now, take hold of that feeling and multiply it by about 500. That was the essence of the National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership, which took place July 26-28 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Sessions at the National Summit for Volunteer Engagement Leadership
I was lucky to attend the Summit and honored to co-present one of its breakout sessions.

This conference was organized by a fearless group of leaders from all over the U.S., with the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) paving the way. Over 500 people gathered to learn and connect through more than 100 breakout sessions related to leadership in the field of volunteer engagement.

The Summit was an incredible opportunity to inspire, get inspired, and recharge, so we can continue to be the leaders our volunteers, organizations, and communities need us to be. In case you missed it, I’m sharing my top five takeaways from the event.

1. We needed this: The Summit brought like-minded people together in a way that is rarely done in our field I met so many people that I wouldn’t have met any other way, and I know that I’ve made some lifelong friends.

2. Volunteerism is worldwide: Even though this was a national conference, I was impressed that attendees traveled from four countries: the U.S., Canada, England, and the Netherlands.

3. “Yes, and!”: If you’re familiar with improv comedy, you’ve likely heard this phrase before. The Theater of Public Policy entertained us each day and led us through an exercise where we practiced “yes, and” thinking instead of “no, because” or “yes, but.”

4. Leaders and legends, everywhere: One of my favorite parts of the Summit was connecting with people who I’ve admired for years, including Susan J Ellis, Betty Stallings, Katie Campbell, Rob Jackson, Jennifer Bennett, Elisa Kosarin, Meridian Swift, Tobi Johnson, and more.

I’ve read their books and blogs and attended their webinars and trainings, but nothing beats meeting them in-person!

5. There is no shortage of thought leaders: Something I’ve heard throughout the last decade or so is the idea of a “leadership shortage” in the space, where people are retiring and leaving a leadership vacuum where they once led.

In the “National Strategy Session on Emerging Leaders,” my group discussed the challenges or those who are newer to the field, to help each other share expertise to fill some of those gaps. Our conversation left me inspired about our future leaders.


The Summit may have been the professional peak of my year, but that doesn’t mean it’s all downhill from here! There will be future challenges that we must face as a profession, too. That’s why I’m dedicated in taking action by continuing the Summit’s conversation and collaboration. Here are the 5 things I plan to do as a result of my learnings. :

1. Become a member of the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement, otherwise known as AL!VE. (There’s even a membership discount for VolunteerMatch members!)

2. Continue building relationships with people I met at the Summit, share resources, and connect with them on LinkedIn so we can keep in touch.

3. Offer to share my Summit experience with my local volunteer management association or Director of Volunteer Agencies (DOVIA) and attend their events throughout the year.

4. Set aside time each week to read and comment on blogs related to volunteer engagement and leadership. Learning is ongoing, and I need to ensure I’m giving myself the space to think and process new ideas from a variety of sources. I also hope to write a few blogs of my own.

5. Invest in emerging leaders by mentoring and encouraging them to seek experiences and opportunities that keep them engaged in the field. I’ve had mentors along my journey, and I want to do the same for others.


Did you attend the Summit? Leave a comment and tell me what you plan to do or what you have already achieved. Let’s keep the momentum going!

Author Bio: Liza J Dyer, CVA, has been working and volunteering in the nonprofit and public sectors for more than 15 years. She is currently a Volunteer Services Program Coordinator at Multnomah County Library, a public library system in Portland, Oregon which engages over 2,000 community members as volunteers each year.