“You should really ask to be paid.”
“I don’t think we can afford you.”
“It’s the principle of the thing, your time is valuable.”
All of these things are true, but regardless, you should volunteer your time, efforts, and talents to a worthy organization. You should give thoroughly, generously, and often. Why? Glad you asked…
1. Easy networking – When you give your time to an organization, you meet other people who are equally passionate and awesome. It’s a great way to make professional connections and friends. This is especially valuable for we introverts who are better at task-based communication.
2. Try out a new gig – Want to move a hobby into a business? Interested in grant writing, but you only took that one class in college? Volunteering is a great way to get your feet wet and learn. If you’re starting a business, you can donate products or services to fundraisers. This can also be a great way to be involved before committing to a longer term position. If you donate something that you plan on growing into a business, make sure to ask for some sort of formal thank you (even if it’s just a mention in a program).
3. Learn intangible skills – Computer programmers need soft skills, and communicators need technical acumen. Volunteering allows you to learn to do things that your normal job may or may not require. These skills can be useful if you ever want to transition careers or work toward a promotion.
4. Learn to be uncomfortable – When you get involved in nonprofits and grassroots organizations, you will undoubtedly be running events and working with fewer resources. These situations require creative problem solving, and dealing with the chaos builds grit (a key employability skill).
5. Prevent burnout – Feeling bored at your current gig and need a little validation? Volunteering allows you to apply your expertise to something tangible and positive. Since recognition and gratitude are the only currency an organization has to give, the good ones do it often. Also, a recent study from Harvard Business School found that people who volunteer their time perceive themselves as having more of it.
6. Build your resume – And of course, hanging out here at the bottom of the list is that involvement looks good on resumes. The resume boost is not just for young people; mid-career and late career resumes also benefit from a volunteer gig or two. The best kind of resume entry will have a title and specific accomplishments, so just going to a meeting isn’t going to give you the benefit.
In order to really get the most of your experience when volunteering, you need to do a few things.
1. Set your “no” threshold – One of my colleagues who is way wiser than I said, “If you never say no, what good is your yes.” Agreeing to do too much can cause burnout.
2. Ramp up your commitment – If you are building a relationship with an organization, don’t jump from working an event to being on the board. Start small, then grow slowly so you don’t take on more than you can do. Also, be reliable. These organizations depend on your dependability.
3. Don’t worry about what you are best at, do what you love – This is my most important piece of advice. If you are a fundraiser, grant writer, graphic design, or web-developer, there’s a chance that someone is desperately looking for you right now. Be careful about volunteering these skills too much if you are not totally in love doing it. If volunteering is an outlet for you to do something else, make sure it stays that way. Be firm about what you want to do, and how much you want to do it.
And of course I must mention that if you really want to flex those volunteer muscles, SHE could always use your time and talents! Become a Special Agent for SHE at our next Special Agent Training on Sunday, June 26, 11 am – 12:30 pm. RSVP HERE! If not, there are great websites for finding good opportunities, right here and here.
Lisa Pavia-Higel is a St. Louis based writer, educator and performer. By day, she’s a mild mannered Communication and Media professor at a local community college. By night, she’s a stage combat fighting, jewelry making, comic reading, critique writing, productivity advice giving powerhouse. She also loves trying things that she’s really not very good at, like sewing, painting and writing succinct biographies. She is indulged by her little geeklet Sofia and intrepid feminist, geeky husband Matthew. She’s too long winded for Twitter, but you can tweet her @lisamariepavia.