How Volunteering Can Help Your Career

Gillian Hewitt Smith is Notable’s Philanthropy Expert, a corporate affairs businesswoman, and avid volunteer.

Want to volunteer but don’t think you have the time?

Your career may thank you for the time you spend volunteering. Last month, I mentioned that not-for-profit (NFP) and charitable organizations want you for your time, energy, ideas, influence, and financial support. Guess what? Your employer wants you for pretty much the same thing.

There are many professional benefits to volunteering — the skills you can acquire and hone in a voluntary capacity can benefit you in a professional setting.

So, what are they?

Imagine you’re participating on a charitable committee or serving on the Board of an organization. One of your duties will be to act as an ambassador for that organization’s work by telling the people in your circle about the good deeds done and why they should support the organization. If you’re to be a credible ambassador, you need to know the organization well, understand its mission, and be passionate about its cause.

Now imagine how transferable all of those elements of volunteering are to the work world: promotion, marketing, financial road shows, and recruiting.

When you serve on a Board of Directors, you are responsible for the governance of the organization and have a front-row seat in the oversight of the organization’s strategy. Depending on the nature of the Board and its relationship with management, there may be excellent opportunities to participate directly in the development of an overall strategy.

How many of us, early on in our careers, actually have real opportunities to participate meaningfully in strategy discussions? It’s a very valuable skill.

Keep in mind that the NFP world needs seasoned professionals just as much as the private sector. There will hopefully be a mix of talents and experience levels at the table, including you. While you may not be the one leading the charge, you will benefit from working in (often) much smaller groups, with greater direct access to senior people and the ability to learn from their experiences. I’ve found some of my mentors in this type of setting.

This brings me to one of the best professional benefits of volunteering: building your network. In many ways it’s quite simple logic — investing your time with another organization opens the door to meeting more people than if you spent all your time with your employer. As long as you’re making connections that are authentic and productive, these new relationships will become as valuable as the ones you form on-the-job.

I haven’t touched on ways to engage your employer in your voluntary initiatives. More on that another month.

From my own experience, I can say that I have learned many skills while in a volunteer role far sooner than I would have in my paid career. And when the time came for a new professional challenge, I was already equipped with the skills needed for the job.

Photo courtesy Stock.Xchng.