Personal Branding Series Part 3 of 3: An Interview with Corina Sadler, CVA
Welcome to the final installation of this blog series on personal branding.
For the first installation where I outline some thoughts on personal branding for volunteer engagement professionals, please follow this link: https://www.learnwithjpp.com/post/personal-branding-series-part-1-of-3-a-personal-reflection
For the second installation, where I interview Kristen Loblaw, please follow this link: https://www.learnwithjpp.com/post/personal-branding-series-part-2-of-3-an-interview-with-kristen-loblaw
Today, I’m pleased to interview Corina Sadler, CVA! Corina is all-in when it comes to municipal volunteer programs. She is the Volunteer Resources Supervisor at the City of Plano in Texas and received a national IMPACT Award in 2019 from the Association of Leaders in Volunteers Engagement. Over the last 17 years, she’s worked as a Hispanic leader in local government specifically centred on volunteerism. She takes great care in representing the volunteer perspective and advocating for volunteer opportunities to engage more neighbours in more City departments.
Corina responded to my post on the Volunteer Engagement Professionals - connection & camaraderie Facebook Group because she recently facilitated training for AL!VE on personal branding, and has also led “Telling Your Professional Story Online” workshops for local professional associations. From my interactions with her online, I had a great impression of Corina’s personal brand and was excited to chat with her about it.
JPP: Thanks for chatting with me today! Let’s start with how you define “personal brand”?
CS: In my experience, a personal or professional brand is your reputation. It’s what is said about you in a room when you’re not there. It’s what people remember about you and what you stand for or are passionate about.
The marketing world talks about how we do business with brands we “know, like and trust”. I have applied some marketing principles to create brand content about my own work that might lead to someone feeling like they know me, could learn to like me or might trust me — all from seeing my professional volunteer engagement content online. So far, I’ve had positive results.
JPP: Let’s dig deeper into that online content. On LinkedIn, your headline reads “Voice for Volunteer Engagement”. What are you trying to convey with that phrase?
CS: I changed my headline in November 2021 after ten years! It was actually a big leap for me which started with Priya Sodha’s “LinkedIn Revamp” course. The course included a coaching call with Priya who was the perfect person to help me give myself permission to move my LinkedIn brand forward. I applied her pointers right away and whether coincidence or not, after making those changes I received offers to collaborate.
Our online brand can work for us 24/7 if we take the time to have it truly reflect who we are. The phrase “voice for volunteer engagement” summed up everything for me. I am very focused on volunteerism and I’m a speaker. Those two things coming together in this phrase brought clarity to my work and connected me with more colleagues from around the world.
JPP: That’s incredible. Thanks so much for recommending Priya’s work. I’ll be following her on LinkedIn! On your LinkedIn profile, in the “About” section, you mention being a Hispanic leader in government. How much of your cultural background do you incorporate into your personal brand? What factors influenced your choice to do that?
CS: Thank you for noticing. I had conversations with Breauna Dorelus and Becca Hand about my cultural identity and they both encouraged me to say exactly who I am, in any venue I wanted to say it. I’m a millennial so when I started in local government in 2004 I wanted to be seen as “a professional” and nothing else. At that time, bringing your “whole self to work” was not a thing. Being Hispanic with family in Mexico is an important part of who I am and how I relate to my work. Similar to being an alum of my university or being born in Plano, Texas, there are things that may connect people to me. Those things become part of my brand because I am very proud of them. JPP: What advice would you have for other volunteer engagement professionals from equity-seeking groups around incorporating their identity into their personal brand?
CS: I understand the worry about discussing things that are deeply personal on-camera or in front of an audience. Our culture is part of our story though. I have always urged leaders of volunteers to be outspoken about who they are in this work. I often say, “It’s okay to be you, just be you and tell your story. Please be more of you so I can be more of me.”
If someone is their authentic self they will encourage the next person watching to be their authentic self and be fearless in defining who makes up this profession. I shared a post on LinkedIn about my work and someone wrote, “You can’t be what you can’t see... and your work allows others to see their true value and potential.” That comment has stuck with me and really motivates me to continue sharing volunteer engagement content.
At the same time, we don’t owe anyone an explanation about our identities. This is not about everyone else, this is about building the pillars of our own brand that will lift us up and carry us forward. Not everyone is ready and that’s okay too!
JPP: I’ve done some deep thinking and consultation with mentors to nail-down my personal brand. As such, my personal brand has changed gradually over time. How long did it take you and what were some processes you used to think about how you wanted to brand yourself?
CS: Like you, my brand has shifted over time with every hard lesson learned. I started my brand journey in 2017 when I was promoted to supervisor over our volunteer department. I knew that to be a leader I needed to become the face of the program. I knew that no one else in the organization should be able to talk about and advocate for volunteers like I could. With a staff of 3,000 at my organization, I asked myself, “how can I influence and reach colleagues who do not work next door to me but might benefit from the volunteer resources department?”
As Leaders of Volunteers, we deal a lot with assumptions about volunteers and our ability to professionalize the field of volunteer engagement. So, I began by documenting my professional life: everywhere I went I took a photo and wrote a caption in my head to post later. I was super excited to reach a supervisor level within my organization and that enthusiasm spilled over into my brand development. Now, I stay engaged and prevent burnout by managing my brand. It lets me be creative, experiment, and have fun.
JPP: I totally agree. This blog is one of the ways I put my personal brand into the world, and it’s been great for my creativity while allowing me to have fun conversations like this. I also love how the blog allows me to share resources that may be helpful to others. Where should colleagues look for examples of strong personal brands in the volunteer engagement field?
CS: In our field, Tobi Johnson, CVA at VolunteerPro balances her business with giving back to the profession seamlessly. Dana Litwin, CVA has a free YouTube channel but also does consulting and mentoring. Breauna Dorelus has an incredible Instagram and paid online community but continues to make herself available beyond those ventures.
Others like Nicole R. Smith, Meridian Swift, CVA and Rob Jackson have books, blogs and podcasts but they also welcome discussion and feedback. When these individuals make an appearance at a webinar, people attend simply based on what they know about their expertise and being a content expert for our field… that’s part of their brand. I’d love to see more strong brands coming from practitioners in the volunteer engagement space.
JPP: Why do you think there aren’t many Leaders of Volunteers who actively promote their personal brands?
CS: There is a misconception that you have to be selling something to have a brand but that’s not necessarily true. Your brand is your expertise. I do take notes from leaders in business who not only sell their training courses but also give to their respective fields with free podcasts, newsletters, and Facebook groups that allow anyone to tap into their influence. On LinkedIn, I follow Julia Campbell, L. Michelle Smith and Dr. Kristin Guillory because they teach me something with every post.
JPP: Yes, self-promotion can feel uncomfortable, especially for women. How can someone start defining their personal brand in a way that feels less like job interview prep?
CS: Last year I read a book that asked me to write down my top ten core values. I did and the results spelled out exactly who I am. I’ve decided that every brand decision has to align with those values. I ask: Is it fair? Is it honest? Am I displaying kindness or loyalty? For me, my content is part of a larger strategy to accomplish my goals. It goes beyond just “putting stuff out there”.
Once you know your values and goals you can draw up some strategies to get moving.
JPP: Great advice! As a volunteer engagement professional builds their brand, what would you advise that they watch out for?
CS: Building a brand you’re proud of takes time. You will try out things that don’t end up feeling authentic so you’ll try something else. You may get negative feedback because people aren’t used to hearing from you in that way. I do think about ethics and its role in personal branding. Especially when my story is intertwined with someone else's. I always get permission to share a quote or post a photo of someone else. I stick to the facts and that keeps me from veering into gray areas. Upholding the ethical values of the CVA reinforces this as well. It’s a choice and it’s a lot of work but I’m happy to pull back the curtain and be honest about what this experience has been like.
My final advice is… the more you put your brand out there, the more eyes will be on it. I’ve received some offers that feel like a conflict of interest. I have to weigh the pros and cons of any collaboration that my name will be attached to. Like this offer from you — I know you from the field, I’ve visited your website and have watched your interview on YouTube with Dana Litwin. I have a sense of what you stand for and you clearly explained why you wanted to pursue this topic. I’m glad I said yes — thanks, Jessica!
JPP: You're very welcome! Are you open to connecting with others who want to glean your expertise around personal branding? Where can people find you?