Volunteer for your community — and your career goals
Volunteering your time is the epitome of altruism, but a related benefit to your selfless service is that it can also give you a career boost.
A 2013 study by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) found that “volunteering is associated with a 27% increase in odds of employment.” Perhaps that’s why more than 62 million Americans volunteered at some point in 2015.
To get the most out of volunteering your time, it’s best to do some preliminary thinking and planning.
The first thing to do when approaching volunteerism from a position of self-interest is some self-investigation. What do you have to offer and what do you want to gain? Let’s break this down.
Volunteer Impact: Dana Neufeld
“While I was a student, I took a volunteer teacher role at Las Casas. I can’t emphasize enough how much that experience enriched my learning during my final courses in the TESOL program.” — Dana Neufeld
Boosting Your Résumé’s Attractiveness
Volunteering shows your motivation, a quality that employers prize. As a volunteer, you are demonstrating that you are an involved person who is potentially a good team player. A recent Deloitte survey, Building Leadership Skills Through Volunteering, found that “82% of respondents said they would be more likely to to choose a candidate with volunteer experience on their résumé.”
Given restrictions on gathering due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, virtual volunteering is on the upswing. The Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals keeps an updated list of virtual opportunities on its website.
Volunteer Impact: Cara Sperry
“Volunteering is the most unentangled way of learning about a field without committing to an institution’s stance.” — Cara Sperry
The Skills-Based Volunteer
Beyond just having a volunteer stint on your resume, it’s even more helpful to have targeted volunteer experience that matches the skills that you would use in your dream job. Skills-based volunteering is gaining popularity. Last year, the Stanford Social Innovation Review stated that, among corporate citizenship programs, “skills-based volunteerism is the most rapidly growing, with more than 50 percent of companies now channeling the talents of their employees to nonprofit organizations.” Companies are sprouting up as conduits between nonprofits looking for help and those who can help with spot jobs and assignments.
One such middleman is Catchafire.org, which aims to match professionals with nonprofits based on their skills, availability and interests. Catchafire has different account categories for volunteers, social-good companies and grantmakers. The organization even helps to shape nonprofit strategies and plans to make the most of the volunteer opportunities.
Common Impact, which centers its efforts primarily in the Northeast, is another such company that attempts to align business goals with social purpose through matching nonprofits with skilled volunteers.
Volunteer Impact: Sana Maqsood
Sana Maqsood credits that mentoring opportunity for helping guide her during her career transition to design. She even suggests where others can find their own mentor outside of the workplace: Amazing Design People List (ADPList), one of the many organizations to which Sana gives back to the UX design community through volunteering.
Find the Right Career for You Through Volunteering
Not everyone picks the right college major and slides seamlessly into the field of their dreams. You learn, you evolve and sometimes you find out later on what is your true calling. In this case, volunteering is a great way to gain experience in the field that you aspire to join.
To align your philanthropy with your career goals, first research your desired career. Figure out what the roles and responsibilities are. Then take a few classes to prepare you for those duties.
Volunteering is a great next step to give you more data points to determine if this career is really the best fit for you.
Marie Coreil was retired from a career in academia when she started volunteering as a tour guide and receptionist with Leach Botanical Garden (Portland, Ore.). After noticing that the botanical garden’s newsletter lacked style consistency and included many grammatical errors, Marie soon found a new career goal to become a professional editor. After a volunteering stint coupled with our Professional Sequence in Editing, Marie is now enjoying a second career as a freelance editor.
Volunteering can lead to a new career!
Volunteer Impact: Alexander Lipson
Starting out as a volunteer medical scribe, Alexander Lipson worked with a podiatrist and a chiropractor. As he racked up more hours, Alexander transitioned from a volunteer to an employee and began working with more specialists.
Meet Your New Co-Workers
Growing your professional network is another great side benefit to your volunteer gig. It doesn’t have to be super formal, either. There are Meetup groups specifically geared toward regional and interest-based people looking to meet other philanthropic-minded people.
Volunteer Impact: Sandeep Gandhi
“I had also been volunteering as a financial literacy instructor at Narika’s Self-Empowerment and Economic Development (SEED) Program, which is a local nonprofit organization, and realized I could add a lot more value to the participants if I had a broader knowledge of personal financial planning than just the investing piece.” — Sandeep Gandhi
With so many options available for volunteering, where do you start your search?
One terrific clearinghouse to find a volunteer gig in your desired field is the CNCS website Serve.Gov. You can search for volunteer opportunities in your locale and in specific categories such as tax help, graphic design or data analysis.
VolunteerMatch is a nonprofit that posts lots of unpaid positions, mostly specializing in web services.
United Way is a charitable behemoth, and it organizes a wide variety of volunteering opportunities on its website. There are career benefits to aligning yourself with such a large organization: The name recognition that United Way has in the philanthropic market is easily transferable across disciplines and regions.
Perhaps it’s a bit ironic that you have to do research and prepare yourself for a job that is not going to pay you money. Remember, however, that you’re angling for a later payoff (and doing good, now!). And even though you’ll be doing extra work with your income-producing job and your new volunteer side gig, know that you are making yourself more attractive to future employers.
Volunteer Impact: Julie Hooper
“I got my position in clinical research at UCSF by volunteering for nine months before getting hired on.” — Julie Hooper