I was just talking to a friend of mine who had just completed a fundraising campaign for a new tractor for her alma mater. I thought it was a very good project was interested in how it had gone. Of course fundraising is never an easy task and she vowed never to do it again. I thought she was wrong. Whether it is fundraising money or spending time with less fortunate people, volunteering can add value to your career in a way you never thought it would.
Here is why volunteering is becoming invaluable in today’s job market and how you should go about picking what roles to take up.
Volunteering is not only for professionals who want to work in the nonprofit sector. You will get to meet like-minded people in the community. More professionals are taking up volunteering and some companies actually encourage their employees to take up volunteering roles. On a typical project, you will deal with different people such as a project manager, publicist, treasurer, all from different walks of life. Research has shown that the more open your network is, the more successful you are likely to be. The contacts you pick from a volunteer gig could be what you need to propel your career forward.
2. Personal development
Throwing your energy at a volunteering project helps you learn about yourself. A volunteering project can be want you need to develop a sense of purpose. If you are struggling with what you want to do, volunteering can be the path to your self-discovery. In addition, volunteering could help you gain skills in a field you want to get into. There by accelerating your personal development.
3. Transferable skills
If you have ever been on the job market, you will know that leadership and team work are well sought by employers. May be you have been passed up for a promotion that you feel you really deserved? What better way to improve those leadership skills than through volunteering? The other skills valued by employers that you can pick up from a volunteering gig include: problem solving, innovation, emotional intelligence, communication and collaboration.
4. Innovation and creativity
Volunteering is all about service and giving back. If you cannot contribute cash towards a cause you are passionate about, there are plenty of ways in which you can make a difference. Your skills are more valuable than you have ever imagined and there are always opportunities to serve in any capacity. There is always something to do. Volunteering provides a perfect way to put your creativity to use as you make other people’s lives better.
5. Career change
If you are looking to change careers, volunteering could be the best option to help you test the waters. (Example) If you are an accountant aspiring to join the world of environmental management, you could take up a volunteer role with an environment activist. This will help you learn the ropes of the industry. Also, you will be able to make useful contacts in the industry you’re targeting.
How To Choose Volunteering roles
Now that you know that volunteering can be good for your career, how do you choose where you are going to volunteer? The first question you should ask yourself is how you are going to close the gap between the skills that you need for my dream job and the skills that you have now. This will help you focus on a more targeted search that is in line with your career goals.
Decide what you want
As already mentioned, you have to align your volunteering strategy to your desired skill set. Otherwise, your efforts will lead to a dead end. If you have decided to work with an NGO, ensure that you have shared your career objectives with the project manager. For example if your objective is to get into private equity funding, partner with an NGO that helps up and coming businesses with their business strategy and plans.
Find out how the NGO implements its projects. Some NGOs may give you the leeway to plan and work on your own projects. Find out in advance before you make a decision so that you are not stuck doing something that is not in line with your career objectives. As your career objectives change you can change your strategy as you see fit.
Strike out on your own
You don’t always have to volunteer with an already established NGO to improve your skills. All you need is a genuine desire to give back to the community. If no NGO is catering to the kind of community you want to give back to, start a project.
Keep in mind that starting a volunteer project on your own will need some sort of funding so you need to have an idea of how you will support your project financially. Whether you plan on using personal savings or plan to fund raise, you should have some sort of plan in place.
Work with your company
Volunteering does not always have to be a project you work on by yourself. You could convince your company to come up with a skills based volunteering project as part of its corporate social responsibility project. All you need to do is come up with a proposal describing how the project will work and how it will give back to the community.
For example if you work at a business consultancy, you might propose to your company to help out SME’s with their business plans. Your company would also gain because as these companies grow, they might become business partners in the future. You will also be able to gain more experience that you otherwise wouldn’t have gained. It’s a win-win for all parties involved.
If you keep the above in mind, your volunteering experience will be more enriching not only to your community but also to your career. Differentiating yourself in the competitive job market is becoming hard. Volunteering can be one of the ways to get that next gig. So the next time a volunteering opportunity pops up, do not hesitate to say yes. Or better still, start a project yourself in whatever field you are interested in. Do not forget to include your volunteer roles on your CV.