Why Volunteering Is Great for Your Career
Today’s article is written by Sherry Karten, a operations manager at a non-profit organization in San Francisco.
You like your job. You’re good at it, and you get a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that you’re doing something worthwhile every day.
Still, you know that you won’t be able to stay in one place forever. Nor do you want to. You have ambition, and eventually, you would like to be in a much higher-level, and higher paying, position.
What’s your strategy? Doing a great job simply isn’t enough to reach the pinnacle of career success anymore. As you develop your goals and career advancement plans, explore your advanced degree options, build relationships with mentors and expand your professional network, do not overlook another powerful means of moving your career forward: volunteering.
There are plenty of good reasons to volunteer. First and foremost, volunteering helps organizations get things done. Most nonprofits would not be able to function without the help of volunteers, and by donating your time and energy, you’ll help them do the important work that makes a measurable difference in your community.
On a more personal level, volunteering is actually good for your health. According to a 2013 United Health Care survey, 78 percent of adults who volunteer say that they felt less stressed, and 80 percent said that they felt more engaged and in control of their personal health.

Volunteers Make Great Employees

Volunteering does more than help communities and keep you healthy. It also helps you do better on the job. The United Health Care survey revealed that volunteering provides employees with a number of measurable benefits, including better time management and people skills.

More specifically, volunteering helps:

  • Build Your Skill Set. While many people tend to gravitate toward opportunities that use their existing skills, performing tasks outside of your daily responsibilities helps you expand your skill set. For example, you might work in health care communication, but as the fundraising coordinator for an event or organization, you’ll build your skills in accounting and finance.
  • Build Your Personal Network. Volunteering allows you to meet new people from a wide variety of industries, particularly people whom you may not have otherwise had the chance to interact with. In fact, 71 percent of people who regularly volunteer believe that it helped them grow their professional network. Expanding your network not only helps you in the event that you need a new job, it can also help you do your current job more effectively.
  • Allow You to Explore Your Passion. Changing careers often involves taking risks. If you aren’t completely sure that you want to go down a particular path, volunteering gives you a chance to get a taste of the field without committing to a major change in your life. You may decide that after volunteering as a mentor to teenagers that you actually want to become a teacher — or you may realize that you are far better off where you are.

Finding Volunteer Opportunities

While most professionals realize the benefits of volunteering, the number one reason that most don’t is a lack of time. They have the desire to volunteer, but finding volunteer opportunities that are both beneficial to the community and their careers often proves challenging. When time is at a premium, most professionals want to spend it engaged in worthwhile activities.
That being said, there are a number of volunteer areas where professionals can put their skills to good use while still advancing their careers. Some of the best include:
  • Provide pro bono services. Many small nonprofit or grassroots organizations cannot afford public relations, financial, legal, or other high-paid experts to help them. If you have experience in a technical subject area, consider offering your services to a worthy organization for no charge.
  • Serve on a board. While some nonprofit organizations have “working boards” that provide hands-on services, most boards operate at a more strategic level, overseeing the governance, finances and general direction of the organization. This type of work requires a significant commitment, but it also offers major benefits in terms of administrative experience and networking.
  • Serve as a mentor. Just because you aren’t the CEO yet doesn’t mean you don’t have useful perspective or insights. Volunteer to work with students or early career professionals as a mentor, helping them make good decisions and navigate the waters of their chosen careers.
In the end, regardless of how you choose to volunteer, you’ll reap major rewards in both your personal and professional life. As you make your short and long term goals, make giving back a larger priority, and see for yourself how working for free will boost your career.


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