When it comes to volunteering, many people immediately think of spending time at a local soup kitchen or pitching in for a day with Habitat for Humanity to help build a house. And, while these are important ways to volunteer in your community and gain organizational, planning and management experience, in today’s economy many organizations are hungry for volunteers with professional skills – administrative, communications, marketing, accounting, project management, events coordination, and many more.
Volunteering your talents to any number of organizations – including non-profit, for profit and professional/trade associations – offers you a win-win: not only do you get to feel great for helping an organization and its clients, but volunteering can help you build your network and skills, and help you find a job.
Where to Find Volunteer Work
There are two places to start your search for the right organization that matches your interests and professional goals – student-run professional organizations and the local chamber of commerce.
Student-run professional associations usually seek volunteers to help run the campus chapter. And, these organizations also tend to have a strong relationship with the “parent” professional organization in the area, which often seeks student liaisons.
Collectively, these professional associations are traditionally interested in helping students advance their careers and can provide contacts to other similar organizations in the area. They also can help connect you with organizations that they partner with outside of your professional area of interest where you may find meaningful volunteer work.
Another great resource is the local chamber of commerce. From online directory listings of member organizations to monthly social activities where members come to network, the chamber can provide you with direct access to finding just the right organization for you.
Build Your Network
Volunteering for an organization can open many doors, as professionals from many other companies often participate on the organization’s board of directors or volunteer their time, themselves. By becoming actively involved in an organization, you will naturally meet other professionals who may be able to connect you with key people in your career field.
However, making connections won’t happen on its own. You’ll need to show your value to the organization through the projects you help with, and the skills you show off during your volunteer time. This can also help you to find a mentor, or a person who can guide you as you develop your career plans and gain experience. By volunteering, this becomes your time to shine and really make a difference for the organization through your skill set, while meeting and connecting with others.
Build Your Skills
By becoming actively involved in an organization, you will naturally strengthen the skills you use. Even if the volunteer work you do is not completely aligned with your future career aspirations, don’t fret. This is a great time to build your transferrable skills – the skills that are useful in almost any job situation – leadership, communication, project management and more.
For example, if you help coordinate an annual event, you’ll exercise your planning, project management, marketing and communication skills. If you get involved in a particular initiative, you might lend your professional expertise by suggesting best practices that you’ve learned about in class or you might have the opportunity to actually put those best practices to use in the real world.
Find a Job
Some of the most enjoyable work I have done, has been through my volunteer work – which has led to the beginning of many amazing professional and personal relationships. It is these relationships that you develop that will help open doors for you in the future.
Maybe you’ll get inside information about a job that will post next month. Or, maybe an organization has been looking to hire someone with your exact skill set – and through your volunteer work, you’ve proven that you’ll be an asset to the organization. Or, maybe someone you meet will be impressed with your work ethic and values, and he or she will connect you with just the right person to serve as a mentor or contact who knows about a job opening.
Many students are far more interested in finding a paid internship or part-time job because of the obvious advantage of a paycheck. However, don’t discount the value of volunteer work as you may even be able to do both. But, one tenet I’ve learned to be true time and time again is that you have to give in order to receive, and there’s no greater feeling than giving to an organization that aligns with your values and interests.