Well, then I have something for you!
Today we’re going to talk about the advantages volunteering can have on your career.
Let’s begin with learning new skills.
Here’s a quandary you might have fallen into once or twice (or, like, a million times) at work…
You want to learn and grow in your job, so you can contribute more, increase enjoyment of work tasks, and, of course, make extra money.
But the company is moving at a slower pace than you are. They may think you’re not ready for a given task. Or they might have ten people ahead of you to complete the prized assignment.
In short, you’re being limited by the company. You want to keep growing but they don’t have any options for you. What can you do?
Of course you can keep learning in various ways. You can attend company-sponsored events like seminars, take advantage of corporate educational programs with a local university or an online college, or simply learn on your own by reading, listening, etc.
I love these ideas and have used them myself (especially the seminars and self-learning ideas). But even so, that training only goes so far. What about learning by real-world application? It’s among the best if not the best way to learn. After all, who would you rather hire, someone who took a class on negotiation or someone who’s actually done it?
But how do you get real-world experience if your company has you penned in? The answer: By volunteering!
While your company might think you’re not ready, might not be able to offer options in the areas you want to grow in, or might have people ahead of you, many non-profits are more than willing to let you dive into the deep end, thus giving you the experience you need.
This is because most charities are starved for volunteers, especially high-level ones. They need all sorts of help in a wide variety of areas and don’t care if someone else “thinks you’re not ready” — they are likely more than willing to give you a shot. And this is how you can really learn and grow…by taking on new and challenging projects for charities.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s how U.S. News describes the situation:
Volunteering doesn’t have to mean stuffing envelopes or answering phones. You could design a website, organize an event, write fundraising letters, edit publicity materials, or organize the bookkeeping—the list is virtually endless.
Here’s another take from The Muse:
You’ve mastered your current position. And while it’s great to feel confident and secure in your job, that doesn’t mean you want to be completely done trying and experiencing new things.
When you volunteer, you can try your hand at tons of different skills and challenges, without any threat to your reputation or current job standing. Whether you’ve always wanted to dip your toes into the world of coding or you’ve been meaning to learn a little bit more about marketing, you should have no trouble finding a volunteer opportunity that allows you to do so.
Plus, I don’t need to tell you that volunteering is also an effective way to polish your teamwork skills—which is a quality that virtually every employer looks for!
Finally, here are some thoughts from Forbes:
Nonprofits run very much like corporate entities, except for the funding component. For that reason, there are similar operational departments such as finance, human resources, special events, marketing & communications, fundraising or fund development, and recruitment that offer opportunities for Millennials to learn new, and often, extremely valuable skills.
Program management, financial management and accounting, negotiation, event sponsorship and management, marketing, public relations and social media, web development, technology processes and system implementation, government relations, and board management are all key skills young professionals can learn and transfer to their own professions. Perhaps most important, they will get “hands-on” experience which makes the learning curve much faster.
The skills gained through volunteering are the transferable skills. These skills are necessary to advance in any career. We are referring to, interpersonal skills, customer service, people and time management skills, delegation, listening, and analytics. Volunteering with community based organizations or non-profit organization, it’s all hands-on deck. It’s also an opportunity to gain experience in areas such as entrepreneurship, leadership, and motivation.
You see? Lots of opportunities to grow in a wide range of fields.
My Career Learning History with Charities
My first substantial charity position was with my church. We had a ministry which helped people internationally and, of course, they needed funds.
I began as a donor and was then invited to be on the board. I suggested the organization hold an auction/silent auction combination event to raise money. The president loved the idea and said, “You’re just the man to do it!”
Six months and a ton of time and effort later, we held the event and raised over $100k! As you might imagine, during that time I gained/improved skills in people management, negotiating, problem solving, creativity, and much more.
And not only that, but this position helped me land the best job of my career. More on that below.
After that effort, a couple things happened.
First, the organization asked me to become the president of the board, a position I held for almost seven years. Before I became the president of a $100 million company, this $1 million charity gave me the chance to learn how to be a president. This took my leadership experience to a whole new level. I learned a lot about fundraising, dealing with celebrities (we used them to solicit funds), and managing high net worth people. It was both fulfilling as well as educational.
Second, I started working with the Salvation Army around the same time and was named to their advisory board. All of a sudden I had access to prominent people in my city. I also got to create a few programs designed to raise money and awareness, again growing my skills.
The bottom line is that charities have all sorts of opportunities to help you learn and grow. You can volunteer your time helping on a project, being a committee member, leading a committee, being an officer, and so on. The possibilities are almost endless.
Volunteering Builds Your Network
Now let’s switch focus and talk about how volunteering helps you network, another skill that’s vital to career growth.
We’ll go back to the same sources quoted above and get their perspectives, starting with US News:
By volunteering, you’ll become a known quantity to an entirely new pool of people. You’ll now have a whole new group in your network who knows from direct experience with you that you are (hopefully) reliable, competent, and sane. These traits are not to be underestimated on the job market. These people will then be able to vouch for you to others in their own networks.
And that’s crucial, because employers will almost always go with the known quantity over a marginally more qualified candidate who is a stranger. They know from experience that a candidate who seems great in interviews can end up being flaky, disorganized, or difficult to work with. But someone they’ve worked with or who someone they trust has worked with? In that case, they know what they’re getting. And volunteering lets you become that known quantity.
Next, here’s what The Muse has to say on the subject:
No, networking doesn’t just need to be done on LinkedIn or at a formal networking event. And, it definitely doesn’t need to be forced, uncomfortable, and filled with awkward pauses. So, this is where volunteering comes in. It’s an easy and completely natural way to meet some new connections in your area.
Generally, volunteer opportunities have a pretty friendly, low-pressure environment. This means that you can have genuine, engaging conversations with people who share your interests—without that awkward air of expectations. Chances are, you’ll make more meaningful connections doing this than you ever have around the appetizer table at a networking event.
And finally, a word from Forbes:
Volunteering and networking are essentially the same – the only difference is that volunteers are working on a real-life project, together. Volunteering is often better than traditional networking because those who volunteer are uniquely exposed to industries and individuals they would otherwise never be able to meet.
Big Brothers Big Sisters, for example, has an incredible governing Board of Directors made up of influential corporate leaders, government officials, entertainers, professional athletes, and more. Volunteers get direct access to these people and work with them side by side. These individuals often become more than just “someone they met” — they can become mentors and in some cases, offer leads to new careers. They can also be influential an assisting a volunteer with their personal business goals.
They both allow you the opportunity to meet people who will have a positive impact in your professional development. While volunteering you meet people that have your interest in the same industry and support your cause. Both can be added to your resume as community engagement or volunteer experience. When looking for professional growth, volunteering and networking provide you opportunities to identify and connect with a mentor.
It’s obvious how volunteering can help you grow your network and how networking grows your career, but it might be difficult to see how this might play out in real life.
Well, let me tell you of one instance where it did big-time…
How Networking through Volunteering Found Me a Dream Job
As you might imagine, the Salvation Army helped me network at a whole new level since I was now interacting with high-profile people on a regular basis.
But it was the church project that really paid off big-time.
I wasn’t unemployed, but I was in a job where I was being blamed for something the president had approved. By coincidence a couple who owned an ice cream company were serving on the church fundraising committee detailed above. They saw me in action for six months. They saw me lead. They saw me overcome obstacles. They saw me interact with a wide variety of people. We developed a friendship and mutual respect. And when the project was over, they hired me.
Ultimately this became the best job in my career and I would have never had it without the volunteering opportunity. The owners told me they weren’t really looking for anyone but knew wanted me to work for them (and created a spot for me).
So if you’re in the market for a new job (or even if you aren’t), let me suggest that you look for an opportunity to volunteer and showcase your talents. If you do, you may end up with a new, great job like I did!
And even if you don’t, it’s very likely you’ll create some great contacts who will help you in the future.
I’ve met more people from more diverse backgrounds while volunteering than I have in any other networking effort. And these contacts not only led to a new job for me, but have also generated business opportunities, allowed personal favors/activities for my family, and offered great investment options I would never have had access to otherwise.
So in addition to the fact that I love volunteering because it helps other people, I love it because it can help grow your career — which in turn helps you earn more money. It’s a positive experience all the way around! 🙂
Have a Happier Life
And if it’s not enough that volunteering grows your career while helping others, here’s another awesome benefit — it improves your health.
Check out these findings from United Health Group:
There are many paths to good health, but regardless of which we take, volunteering can help us. We now know people who volunteer feel better — physically, mentally and emotionally better. And our volunteers tell us that they are convinced their health is better because of the things they do when they volunteer.
People who volunteer manage their stress better and feel a stronger connection to their communities. In all of the pathways we take to good health, being a volunteer can help to make a meaningful difference.
So what’s holding you back? Begin looking for volunteer opportunities today and before you know it you’ll be learning new skills, meeting great people, feeling happier, and helping those who are less fortunate.
I call that a win-win-win-win.
Those of you who volunteer your time in helping charities, have you seen these (or any other) benefits from helping that you’re willing to share with the rest of us?