Personal Branding Series Part 2 of 3: An Interview with Kristen Loblaw
Welcome to the second installation of this blog series on personal branding. If you want to check out the first installation, please follow this link: https://www.learnwithjpp.com/post/personal-branding-series-part-1-of-3-a-personal-reflection
This series started with a random weekend thought, which nudged me to post on the Volunteer Engagement Professionals - connection & camaraderie Facebook Group. My post asked for colleagues across the sector to have a conversation with me about their personal brand. Kristen Loblaw was quick to respond.
As an orchestrator, Kristen is able to pull together people and resources to effectively complete projects. She is a respected professional with over two decades of experience in non-profits, focused on volunteer engagement for the majority of that time.
Kristen currently oversees Volunteer Services at the London Public Library. In this role, she recruits, trains, and deploys hundreds of volunteers across 16 locations to support the library’s staff and patrons. Kristen is active with LAVA (London and Area Association for Volunteer Administrators) and has volunteered on their executive team. As a lifelong learner, she is pursuing a degree in Political Science from Brescia University College.
JPP: Thank you, Kristen, for connecting with me. I’d love to start by hearing your definition of “personal branding”?
KL: For me, personal branding is not only how others see you but how you see yourself. This involves building and developing your skills and strengths to be the most impactful you can be. Years ago, I did the Strength Finder test and my core strengths were: Input, Developer, Empathy, Individualization, and Connectedness. When I network professionally and put my personal brand out there, I draw from these strengths.
JPP: Yes! Networking is so important for volunteer engagement professionals! How has your professional community influenced how you connect and engage?
KL: I am always reaching out and connecting with others. This field can be so isolating and I was eager to meet others who had similar work and challenges. I joined my local AVA (LAVA) because I enjoy self-development. I raised my hand to help out and provided input frequently, which connected me to others in the field. This led me to join the executive, which I highly recommend to anyone new to the field. By serving with a professional association, you learn so much and make solid connections. Once you have those connections, you can turn to them when you need help.
When I moved to a larger organization, I realized I needed a bigger network and more information, so I joined the provincial association, PAVRO. I also started looking for other Leaders of Volunteers working in libraries. Which led me to join a US-based group and start a Canadian group, too!
JPP: When I first started working in the sector, I was hesitant to talk about my skills as a Leader of Volunteers. Imposter syndrome is real and it can be hard to start building a personal brand if you’re not feeling confident about the skills you practice every day! What’s your advice for Jessica from a decade ago?
KL: I would say a big part of becoming confident with my own skills was when people started turning to me for advice or resources. I have a habit of picking up information from others, so I can have more meaningful conversations with them. This means I make great connections for myself and others.
JPP: Yes, extending the active skills that we use all the time with volunteers to support others in the sector is great advice! I can tell that connection-building is not only something you are skilled at but also a value you hold in high regard.
Personal values can inform one’s personal brand. How has your career journey been influenced by your personal values?
KL: Like many leaders of volunteers my career journey has had twists and turns. My core values of connection and continuous learning have really influenced my journey and led me to a variety of places. When I first went to college I wanted to be a theatre technician. My strengths were helping wherever needed and knowing everything about the play. So, I found myself in stage management and production management roles.
This led to working in event planning, then fundraising, and now volunteer engagement. About seven years ago I went back to school for non-profit management. Finally being able to put a degree behind my almost two decades of non-profit work seemed like a good move for whatever opportunity came next. But since I started that I became more interested in politics, so last year I switched my major to political science.
What it comes down to is: I need to feel a connection with the organization or people I am working with. Essentially, building relationships is part of every job I’ve had. When you distill down building relationships (and some people don’t like hearing this), it means sales. Whether that was selling actors and techs on a director’s vision, or helping donors or volunteers invest their time and money into something for the right reasons, connection is key. If I don’t have connection, there’s no way I can help my stakeholders find it.
JPP: We’re still in a pandemic, unfortunately. How are you connecting with others and building your personal brand virtually?
KL: I think much of my brand has been built in person. There is huge value in online tools, but for me, online connections can’t stay static. If I meet with someone in person, I want to connect online so we can continue building a relationship. The opposite case is when I’ve connected with someone virtually (e.g. they’ve followed me or I’ve responded to their post). I want to meet them, even if only via video call, so I can have that human interaction.
Platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn are great for staying connected. With the way people can change jobs these days, it can be hard to keep track of where someone is. It makes relationships easy to reestablish when you’ve drifted apart. Small gestures to keep in touch mean a lot to people and they fulfil my need to stay connected through individualized relationships.
JPP: What’s next for your personal brand journey?
KL: I finish my degree in two years and I’m not sure “what I want to be when I grow up”. However, I’m learning to understand that it’s okay to be unsure. Given my new(ish) interest in politics and my history in non-profits, I recognize the value of government relations in the non-profit sector. There are over 170,000 charitable and non-profit organizations in Canada and we produce over 8% of the GDP. I think my values and skills are leading me in that direction. What that means for my overall brand, I’m not sure.
JPP: I love that you’re okay with not being sure and I think many volunteer engagement professionals can learn from this approach to personal branding. Who do you learn from about personal branding?
KL: Within our profession, I would say Lee Jones. Lee is one of the first unofficial mentors I had in this field. She has been the Chair of LAVA multiple times and worked with local, provincial and even national organizations, plus she’s got a consulting business. If you need anything volunteer policy related, she’s who you want. She’s also a huge advocate for recognizing the profession.
Erin Spink also has a very strong personal brand. She’s very clear on her strengths and deliberate with her actions. She’s an amazing resource and a lovely human. I have to admit to a fangirl moment when I first met her at the PAVRO/VMPC Conference in 2019. She’s since helped me with a course project on the impact of the pandemic on volunteerism.
Outside our profession, Brene Brown is someone with an incredible personal brand. Her work has really impacted me in that I learned a lot about myself and who I wanted to be through her 2010 TED Talk and book I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't). She is open and honest in a way few people are, and is one of the first people heard by others talk about how we’re not all perfect and that is ok.
JPP: Thank you for sharing information about these incredible women to learn from, and for sharing your own reflection on your personal brand. Where can people find you?
KL: Thanks for the conversation, I encourage people to connect with me on LinkedIn.