Letter From the President - You Give … You Get

Letter From the President

You Give...You Get

SOA member, professor and volunteer extraordinaire, Stuart Klugman, FSA, focuses on the many benefits of actively volunteering and the importance of investing one's time to grow the actuarial profession.

"The three words that come to mind when I think of the benefits of volunteering are people, places and progress," said Klugman. "I am fortunate to team up with talented, dedicated and enjoyable staff and members; I work in interesting places as a result of participating in volunteer activities; and I see firsthand the positive impact my involvement and that of the other volunteers has on our profession."

Volunteering on the Rise

From a larger perspective, volunteering is at an all-time high in the first decade of the 21st century. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 61.2 million people in the United States–representing 26.7 percent of the adult population–volunteered during 2006. The 2004 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating reported 12 million Canadian volunteers, or 45 percent of the Canadian adult population, served as volunteers.

Volunteering is an integral part of the activities of any not-for-profit organization. With few exceptions, most of the programs and offerings of the Society of Actuaries (SOA) are developed and presented with the assistance of volunteer members. Executing an annual meeting, constructing and grading an actuarial exam or completing a research project all require a combination of volunteer time and staff resources.

As of Jan. 15, 2008, the SOA is proud to have more than 4,700 volunteer members in action at any one time. These volunteers represent almost one-fourth of all SOA members, many of whom are active exam candidates or older retirees whose opportunities to volunteer may be limited. Whatever the case, they realize the benefits of giving and are pulling their volunteer weight to make a difference for themselves, the profession and the greater good that comes from sharing one's time. Over 500 members volunteer just for the Education and Examination Committees. In the United States, the average percentage of association members who volunteer is about 15 percent1; the corresponding figure for the SOA is 24 percent. What makes our members commit to volunteer assignments, and in some cases, multiple projects?

"SOA volunteer activities have provided me with numerous benefits over the years," said Debbie Liebeskind, FSA and longtime education volunteer. "Among them are opportunities to learn from other professionals in similar roles, to practice soft skills (such as presenting, effective meeting participation, leading meetings, organizing events, managing projects) in a safe environment, to develop a network of contacts, to teach and mentor younger professionals, to feel good about giving back to the profession and to make many friends."

Volunteers Bring Technical Expertise to the Table

The SOA relies on its corps of volunteer members for their technical and professional expertise. It is impossible to imagine setting a course of reading or seminar agenda for actuaries in the investment field, for example, with non-actuarial expertise or lay staff. Practicing members are in the best position to assist the SOA staff in setting learning objectives for all levels of educational programs. They bring a network of contacts that permit speaker recruiting, data collection and other activities to be accomplished.

"As a Section Council member and now a chairperson, I enjoy the additional access I have to SOA resources and staff," said Sue Sames, FSA, chair, Actuary of the Future Section. "Monthly webcasts, e-mails, personal relationships and face-to-face meetings keep me well-informed about the activities of the SOA and challenges to our profession. A specific aspect that gives me great satisfaction in my role as chair is the chance to mentor fellow volunteers with different experiences from mine. The ability to encourage and develop people throughout their careers is a vital part of leadership and my experience with SOA Sections has given me the chance to practice those skills. As a volunteer, I know the most effective way to recruit great volunteers is personally to reach out to individuals. I encourage all of the current volunteers to grab a friend or colleague to join us!"

A 2007 survey of existing SOA volunteers revealed quite a bit about their motivations, a few of which are cited here:

  • Giving back to the profession.
  • Molding the future direction of the organization and profession.
  • Career growth with potential to be recognized as a thought leader within the profession.
  • Networking.
  • A sense of professional responsibility.

"As the old adage goes, 'you get out of it what you put into it.' I got more involved in the SOA, because, as an actuary in a non-traditional role, I felt like somewhat of an outsider when going to SOA functions and meetings," said Paula Hodges, FSA, vice chair, Management and Personal Development Section Council. "When I got involved in the Technology Section, I finally felt a kinship with like-minded actuaries. I found that my non-traditional role wasn't quite as unusual as I thought. The power of networking can only be appreciated once you've experienced it. Great things can be accomplished only through people, and being part of someone's professional network definitely enables us all to do great things!"

Volunteering for the SOA provides members with numerous chances to develop new skills and put their technical expertise to use in different forums apart from their day-to-day work. Networking and the chance to develop one's broader business skills, such as written and oral communication, consensus and team building and decision-making, are all bonuses. Movement through the volunteer ranks also provides valuable leadership skills. The accomplished skills that volunteers gain are easily transferrable to their daily work.

Kathy Wong, FSA, a volunteer with the SOA for 12 years, credits volunteering with development opportunities in leadership and communication skills.

"I enjoy the varied volunteer activities, which utilize different skills than the ones I employ in my paying job," said Wong. "As a Board member, vice president and chair of various committees and task forces, I have gained valuable experience in working with and through others, particularly how to have productive and respectful conversations that lead to mutually acceptable solutions with people who may hold strong opinions in opposition to my own. It has also given me numerous opportunities to present before groups of various sizes, something that has not been a big part of my regular job. Perhaps more importantly, I've improved my ability to present ideas concisely and persuasively in Board and committee group sessions, a skill that translates well into business settings."

Volunteers–A Great Natural Resource

Volunteers are perhaps the SOA's greatest resource, and development has started on a system to identify, track and manage this truly valuable resource. As the development of this system progresses throughout the year, more information on the system and volunteering opportunities will be available on the SOA Web site and in SOA publications.

"The profession is far better if we have people investing in it by volunteering," said SOA Board Member Tom Terry, FSA. "Giving to the members and the profession is the more obvious benefit to volunteering, but what you can take away is another important benefit. It's an opportunity for actuaries to grow professionally and hone their leadership skills by observing other styles and perspectives. As you fit into a committee, task force or section council, you learn and observe effective leadership, influence decisions and develop skills in a non-threatening way by experimenting with different leadership styles and ways that can later influence work teams. Volunteer time is an investment in employee growth and development, and as a payback an employer gets a far more worldly, robust, experienced, visionary actuary."

Volunteering is a way that you can make a difference in your profession. If your time allows, please get involved–we need you! For anyone with an interest in volunteering, there are many areas that could benefit from your time, talent and expertise. Please e-mail Sheree Baker for more information.

For those of you who are currently volunteering or who have already volunteered countless hours for the profession, the SOA or one of the other actuarial organizations, this William Shakespeare quote is for you: "I can no other answer make, but thanks, and thanks."


1 Volunteers: How to Get Them, How to Keep Them by Helen Little, Panacea Press, Inc.1999.

Bruce Schobel
SOA President