Back in 2000 I was two years into my experience of SAP software, and I went along to a UK & Ireland SAP User Group meeting. What struck me at the time was the enthusiasm of the organisers and the interest of all those present in everything that was said. I didn't get it at first, I mean why were all these very intelligent people getting so excited about talking about issues and challenges and sharing all their war stories? And then all of a sudden it clicked....the action of getting clever people together and sharing experiences was incredibly powerful. Very quickly I understood the value to me and my organisation, but it didn't stop there.
In conversations with the then Chairman, I was given the opportunity to get my hands dirty, and become a director of the User Group. Working with the board of directors was fascinating as this was an organisation just waiting to really increase the impact, and to up its game. I've always been a problem solver, and it was apparent to me that it needed focus. Volunteers, despite their enthusiasm just don't have the full amount of time to focus.
The board expanded and decided to increase its size and influence. First stop was to employ some staff. We were extremely lucky to find an excellent Operations Manager (who is now the User Group CEO), and that focus started to happen. Membership rocketed, attendance increased, User Group events expanded and in 2006 we held the first annual conference at the Hilton Metropole Hotel in Birmingham. In 2007, I became Chairman of the organisation, and after I handed over to the safe hands of Philip Adams in 2013, I continued as a Director. Today, the annual User Conference spans three days occupying the whole of the ICC in Birmingham!
But along the way we had to shape and build an organisation, learning all the things that a company has to do. Annual accounts, auditors, multiple legal matters, RFP's for services, HR policies, health and safety policies, website design, sales and marketing pitches, office relocations, all manner of company policies and yes, even IT implementations (the User Group now runs SAP).
And all this as a volunteer - I can't thank my various employers over the years enough for allowing me to do this, and my wife and family for the hours spent working late and at weekends to get things ready for events and board meetings. Personally, I have learnt an awful lot, especially in my six years as Chairman of the organisation, and without doubt it has made me a far more knowledgeable and rounded individual. I've also been privileged to meet and work with some amazing people, making every day a learning opportunity. And of course, my employers, also benefited through that learning.
I’ve now retired, but the involvement with the User Group has been something I’ve enjoyed, I’ve stressed about (at times), and something I’m immensely proud about. Some facts. in the last 16 years this not for profit organisation has increased its turnover by 40 fold, its cash reserves by 10 fold, gone from half an employee to 13 employees, and at the same time vastly expanded its influence, its offerings, and changed from keen amateurs to skilled professionals. The original vision and business plan that we deliberated around in 2004 was easily met and exceeded - it continues to be revisited in tri-annual strategy reviews.
Volunteering is healthy for you and your employer - and can
be addictive! So my message to employers: encourage your staff to do this type
of thing, it pays back many times over. And to individuals...just do it, it’s
fun and very rewarding.