John Timperley, Accountancy Age, Thursday 22 July 2010 at 00:30:00

There are benefits to working unpaid for industry bodies, but you have toreceive enough in return to justify your time

A senior manager at a mid-tier accountancy firm asked my advice the otherday. She?d been asked by a small trade association to become their treasurer inher spare time. While she was keen to grow her network, she was concerned aboutthe time commitment this role would command.

Many accountants, because of their expertise and standing in the businesscommunity, are approached by professional bodies and groups to give free supportand guidance.

There are obvious benefits. If the group is from an industry sector orgeographic territory they specialise in, there?ll be opportunities to expandtheir contact and client base. It can also enhance a CV and give furthercredibility to an individual?s professional standing. In some cases, it can leadto them being crowned the ?go to? professional in a certain field.

Saying that, pro bono work can eat into precious spare time and, as Isuggested to the senior manager, you need to be very clear why you?re doing this? what are you hoping it will bring to you in the long-run ? and retain controlof your involvement. Ask yourself several key questions. How can I best helpthis group with my skills and experience? How much time do I need to invest toachieve my personal aims, and how can I manage this given my current priorities?What support do I really want to give to be seen to contribute? Who do I need toget close to in the group to ensure I can give this support in a way that ismost effective?

Ultimately you want to give help that plays to your strengths and interests,so be clear about what those are. If this isn?t possible in the short-term, whatdo you need to do to get to this point further down the line and who are thepeople you need to impress along the way? Is the journey actually going to beworth it?

And, if you choose to support a professional group, it?s wise to checkperiodically that all your efforts are justified from the return you?re getting? other than the important sense of satisfaction that you are making a difference. Your time is precious, so use it well, for the benefit of the groupand yourself.

John Timperley is managing director at The Results Consultancy.