Within three months of losing my corporate job back in the late 90s, I got the bright idea to plunge into volunteering. I instinctively knew that keeping my hands busy with good work and meeting new people would help keep my spirits up as I figured out my next move.
Along the way, I also learned that volunteering provides opportunities to develop new competencies or resurrect dormant skills. Plus, I enjoyed the camaraderie and feeling of satisfaction that grew from joining with others to advance the mission of an organization we felt provided important benefits to our community. More than a dozen years later, I am still in at least occasional contact with several people I met in my first significant volunteer experience.
Volunteerism is de rigueur for Freelancers, business owners, corporate professionals and even students seeking acceptance to prestige schools. Consider it additionally as a pathway to creating more business or entering the C-suite. Volunteer projects allow important others to witness first hand your talents, professionalism, commitment and collaborative spirit. Volunteering is an excellent way to beef up your CV and bio, meet prospective clients and expand your referral network.
Strategically and purposefully volunteering one’s time is an essential component of smart networking and PR strategies. Volunteer to participate in (or sponsor) a noteworthy community event and create the perfect reason to write a press release and alert the media to your activity.
Carefully select a volunteer opportunity that will achieve specific objectives. To get started, ask yourself some questions that will clarify your reasons for volunteering, help you choose the right organization and assess how much time you can contribute:
- Decide what you would like to achieve. Do you want to showcase certain talents, develop or strengthen certain skills or boost referrals?
- Decide who you’d like to meet and interact with. Do you want to develop relationships with industry peers, or promote a cause while you meet prospects?
- Decide your preferred time commitment. Can you appear at monthly meetings over a two or three year period and serve on a board of directors, or is a short term commitment on a special project committee more suitable?
Next, identify volunteer opportunities that will produce the desired ROI. Whether you are most interested in professional associations or not-for-profit organizations, investigate and ask questions.
If you are not yet a member of the professional group that has captured your interest, visit its website, learn the purpose of the group and the types of programs it sponsors. Attend a program, meet members and officers and ask what they value most about membership. Make discreet inquiries about committees/subcommittees to figure out which would best showcase or build your skills.
If you are drawn to the NFP sector, be sure to choose an organization whose mission aligns with your interests and values. Visit the website to find out who is on the board and check out past and upcoming events. Attend one and meet the staff and board members you’re thinking of working with.
It’s good to first test the waters by serving on a short term special project committee, so that you can learn useful information such as upcoming available slots on the board, the expected financial contributions of board members and if its members are expected to sell tickets to events or recruit financial donors.
Once you’ve started your volunteer journey, be sure that your level of participation is in line with that of other board or committee members and that the benefits you’re receiving are fulfilling your objectives. Strategic volunteering means that you recognize volunteering is a two way street and you exchange your time, talent and money for opportunities to highlight or strengthen your skills and make some useful contacts while you do it.
So are you meeting the right people? Do you work on projects that interest and showcase you? Are you having fun, or feeling frustrated? If it’s the latter, do not be ashamed to resign. There are numerous volunteer opportunities available and one, or perhaps more, will be a good fit for you.
Thanks for reading,