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Colleen Winter on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Volunteering

Colleen Winter is the author of The Gatherer series of speculative thrillers. This is her debut post. You can find out more about her on her website, or by clicking here, and buy her books here.

Hello! I am a new author in the Blackbird Writers and am excited to join this talented and supportive group. I write speculative thrillers, set in the very new future, and I’m looking forward to adding my books to Blackbird’s impressive list. 

I recently concluded ten years of leading several writing organizations within my community of Barrie, Ontario, Canada, and even though it’s only been a few months since I stopped, when I met Tracey S. Phillips at Thrillerfest and she asked me to join the Blackbird Writers, I jumped at the chance.

People volunteer for many reasons. Some people like to feel they’re contributing to their community and others want to meet people. I volunteered for both those reasons, along with many others. What follows is my observations of what is good, bad and often great, about engaging with your local writing community.

The Good

Contributing to Community – It always feels good to be out in the community contributing. There is a certain joy in believing that you are making a difference, particularly during the pandemic when our online meetings were lifelines for many, including myself.

Meeting other Authors – Both organizations I was involved in, the Writers’ Community of Simcoe County and Voices at Word Up Barrie supported authors of all genres. I write speculative thrillers but learned from each of the authors we hosted, whether it was poets, graphic novelists, or creative non-fiction. We all had different paths but ultimately shared the ups and the downs and learned from each other’s successes and failures.

Supporting Authors – It’s no secret that writing is a tough go, whether it’s simply finding the time to write, trying to get the attention of an agent, or getting published. Creating a space where authors felt supported and could share their stories was important and rewarding.

Networking – Many authors loathe networking, but the reality is it’s essential. Meeting other authors, agents, editors, and publishers helps you learn about the industry and know the people who can help you fulfill your writing dreams. Especially as the President of two groups, I met people in the industry I would have never had access to.

You’re in Charge – As part of an organization, you get to decide – or help decide – the authors and topics to feature in the organization. My partners and I were able to arrange workshops that we wanted to attend and line up speakers we wanted to meet.

The Bad

Time Commitment – Running an organization takes time, and it takes time away from your own writing and author activities that you need to be doing. There will be points when your own priorities take a back burner because the writing association is outward facing and there are things that need to get done by a deadline.

Finding Volunteers – There have been much longer pieces written on this topic and the overall decrease in volunteerism, but the fact is, it is difficult to find others to help. Our members were happy to attend meetings and participate and were upset that Word Up was closing its doors, but that didn’t result in any of them stepping up to help.

Cross-Promotion – You might think that meeting so many authors and networking with them would result in an increase in book sales. The people you meet are supportive and will help promote your books, like when I recently released my third book THE STORM, but it is difficult to tell if there is any correlation at all between time spent and book sales.

The Ugly

I’m going to be short here, since we don’t want to dwell too much on the ugly parts, but it’s worth mentioning that burn out is a problem when volunteering as there is always so much to do and few people to do it. Some members and authors aren’t friendly or appreciative. Even though you are a volunteer and giving up your own time to organize the event, people will still complain and blame you for things. If you’re dealing with dues or workshops, you’ll have to do banking, and as a non-profit there are even more hoops to jump through. And don’t even get me started on grant applications.


It’s easy to convince yourself that getting involved in a writing organization, or any organization, isn’t worth it. I strongly disagree.

Being a part of both organizations shaped who I am as an author, and who I am as a person. These organizations gave me a safe space to grow. The afternoons we spent at the Writers’ Community of Simcoe County talking shop and immersing ourselves in the world of words and writing were magical. Even when we ran into difficulties, I came away from every meeting happy that I had attended. I always learned something, and it spurred me on to keep going.

Have you considered volunteering? Are you willing to give it a try?

Colleen Winter

With one foot in the world of technology and the other in the world of words, Colleen Winter’s fiction explores our relationship with technology and ultimately the choices it requires us to make. You can find out more about her on her website,, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. Anne Louise Bannon
    Anne Louise Bannon

    Having been a member on the board of my local Sisters in Crime chapter, I know whereof you speak, Colleen. And I’m doing it again next year. Sigh!

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      It is always worth it, but of course it comes with challenges. As with everything in life!

  2. Avatar
    Jacqueline Vick

    Thank you, Colleen, for laying it out. I find I volunteer to the point of burnout, pull back from everything, and then work my way back up again in a continuous cycle. To me, the most important benefit is the sense of community. I hope you grow to love our community as I do. 🙂

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      Yes exactly! I have gone through that cycle many times. I’m looking forward to getting to know the Blackbirds.

  3. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Colleen — Because I write the Sean McPherson crime thriller novels Mon-Fri, I volunteer in a completely different world (nothing to do with writers, authors, or reading) on the weekends. The vast difference helps to keep me balanced.

  4. Avatar

    Welcome, Colleen! Your debut topic is a great one. Volunteering in my experience does as much for the volunteer as it does for the organization. I always say the more you do, the more you CAN do. I’m looking forward to learning more about you and your work.

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      I agree! I got so much out of volunteering. Looking forward to learning more about all the Blackbird authors.

  5. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    As a current member of four boards, and was president of an organization for ten years, I heartily concur with everything you’ve said. Bottom line, it’s my firm belief that those who become involved with an organization get the most out of it.
    Welcome to the Blackbirds, Colleen. I have no doubt you will get a lot out of this flock.

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      Thank you! You must definitely know of what I speak. I’m looking forward to getting the most out of the flock.

  6. Avatar
    Margaret Mizushima

    Great post, Colleen! I agree with you, and I’ve also found that working on a board creates a fabulous camaraderie that you don’t get any other way. My experience as a board member and president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America remains one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in my writing career. So happy to have you join us in Blackbird Writers!

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      It sounds like there is a wealth of volunteer experience in the flock. I have yet to be on a Board but anything is possible.

  7. Carl Vonderau
    Carl Vonderau

    Welcome to the group, Colleen. I’ve been on the Sisters in Crime board and several other nonprofit boards. I agree totally. I love the passion that inspires people to volunteer. But It is often hard to get them to do the work. Spreading that out to more members is always a challenge. It’s great when everyone has the time and motivation to be giving.

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      Absolutely. I love the feeling when everyone works together. So much can be accomplished!

  8. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Thanks for your debut post, Colleen! I just began my twenty-fourth year as a volunteer lector at my church. One or two Sunday mornings a month, I proclaim (read) the readings from the ambo to the congregation. Volunteering to read was a seamless transition for me, having been a career teacher. In addition to enjoying giving back to my community when I lector, I also get more out of the Mass since I orally rehearse my readings during the week and am privy to the upcoming messages. I’ve made friends with priests and parishioners I might never have met if I hadn’t stepped up as a volunteer lector. I enjoyed learning about your volunteer life and look forward to getting to know your books!

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      Thanks Sherrill! It sounds like you have been living the volunteer lifestyle for a long time and know the ins and outs. Looking forward to meeting you!

  9. Colleen Winter
    Colleen Winter

    I couldn’t agree more. The people you meet that you wouldn’t have otherwise are always the best part. I’m sure that will be true with the Blackbirds.

  10. John DeDakis
    John DeDakis

    Hi, Colleen……. Welcome to the flock, and thank you for your words of wisdom. ~JD

  11. Avatar
    Deepam (Susan) Wadds

    Colleen! I jumped when I saw the photo of the letter opener. It immediately caused a flood of memories and emotions. You are so spot on citing the ups and downs, pros and cons of volunteering. And I agree, the pros outstrip the cons by miles. Those years at WCSC were invaluable–for community, for developing craft, for the collective creativity and imagination we each offered. When I think of all we accomplished – the amazing guests we hosted, the contests we ran, the connections we made. I do miss all of it. (Well, maybe not ALL of it) Thank you so much for laying it all out this way. And thank you for all you contributed to those vital organizations!

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      I thought you might react to the letter opener. It seems like such a long time ago but also such a great time as we all developed as authors. I do miss the good parts, luckily there seem to be an infinite number of opportunities to continue volunteering and developing our craft. Congrats on your book!

  12. Joy Ann Ribar
    Joy Ann Ribar

    Glad to have you in the Blackbirds, Colleen. I’m sure all of us relate to your post, one or more ways. I think I get more than I give in most volunteer gigs. And you’re right, it usually can’t be quantified. Meeting new people and making connections matters most to me. Looking forward to seeing more of you.

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      Agreed. The longer I volunteer, the more it becomes about the people and building a community.

  13. Tracey S. Phillips
    Tracey S. Phillips

    Great topic for your post, Colleen! Blackbird Writers relies on volunteers, too. And everyone is so busy these days. It’s something I’m always conscientious of when asking for assistance. I’m a strong advocate for organizations like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. There’s so much offered in groups like that (and in ours). But none of it would happen without the heart and helping hands of the individuals who donate their time and energy. Three cheers for you, volunteers! You deserve applause!

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      Likewise! Thanks for inviting me to this group. The more I learn the more excited I am to be part of it.

  14. Avatar
    Avanti Centrae

    Welcome to the flock and thanks for already contributing! Looking forward to checking out your work!

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      Likewise, I believe we were in the same debut author class at Thrillerfest with all its inherent ups and downs. Looking forward to meeting you and your books!

  15. GP Gottlieb
    GP Gottlieb

    I miss the volunteering I did pre-Covid – it had its ups and downs, but it sure felt good to be doing something nice for others! Welcome to the Blackbirds!

    1. Colleen Winter
      Colleen Winter

      Thank you! I’m looking forward to getting to know the group.

  16. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    One of the most important things I learned when working in theater was that it is okay to fire a volunteer. It was a hard lesson to learn from both the management side and the volunteer side – that lesson is, if you volunteer, you have to show up. So glad to have you with the Blackbirds!

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