Volunteering: An Untapped Source to Incidental Learning

By: Paul Quackenboss Often times in life, the best advice comes from unlikely places, but once you hear it, it hits home. In a 2011 Commencement Speech to a group of Dartmouth Graduates, Conan O'Brien (a comedian I have always really liked), had this to say:

"Your path at 22 will not necessarily be your path at 32 or 42. One's dream is constantly evolving, rising and falling, changing course." Evolution, the rising and falling of the tide, and changing course are driven by different things. It might be a new relationship, a new hobby you have never tried before, or a new company with a fresh message. It could be a boss, coworker, friend or family member that brought out or brings out the best in you.


One area that has really changed my perspective is volunteering. One of the benefits of working in Community Banking and living in a community like Madison is all the different ways to get involved. Last year I was presented with the opportunity to volunteer as a business coach with WWBIC (Wisconsin Women Business Initiative Corporation). WWBIC makes micro loans to small businesses and also educates budding entrepreneurs and business owners alike. A couple months back I was contacted by a woman who was looking to start her own small business. She had profound knowledge of her market, but just needed a little help putting her financial projection together. She was pleased with her finished product and thankful for the help, but I don't think she realized that in our couple meetings together, her and her husband also taught me a lot:

Listening - I did very little talking and try to do very little talking in the early stages of financing decisions. It's taken me a long time to learn this, but you have two ears and one mouth for a reason and its a good idea to use them in proportion. As I let the client tell her story the picture became clearer and clearer.

Meeting structure - Our meetings were informal. We didn't have agendas. What I thought we would talk about typically isn't what we ended up talking about yet our sessions were productive. Obviously depending on the group size sometimes meetings need to be more formal.

Small things make a big difference - A good global economy is driven by good national economies which are driven by good regional economies driven by good local economies. Small businesses make a huge difference.

Time will tell if the company will take off. Not all of them do, but there isn't a doubt in my mind that this woman and her husband are going to try really hard. In trying really hard and maybe failing they may come to conclusion that their business won't work, but that failure could spawn another idea that will evolve, rise and fall, and probably change course too.

Interested in making a difference?  Magnet offers plenty of opportunities to volunteer in the Madison area. Keep an eye on our events page to learn more about how you can get involved.

About the blogger: An accountant by trade, Paul has shifted gears and now works in commercial banking. Outside of work he enjoys golf, cycling, watching Wisconsin sports, catching up with family and friends, an taking a yoga class from time to time. Paul joined Magnet two years ago when he moved to Madison from Minneapolis. The Magnet Golf Outing, happy hours, and community service events such as volunteering at Badger Honor Flight and working at Second Harvest are some of his favorite Magnet activities.