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How Volunteering Helps Your Career

Sharing your time and talent with others isn’t just something to feel good about; volunteering pays off in different ways that ultimately can drive career advancement.

The efforts you put into volunteer activities are a worthwhile investment of time, whether you lead a professional association committee, serve on the board of a nonprofit, assist with an college alumni event, mentor students, act as a brand ambassador of a charitable organization or even roll up your sleeves on a relief project or mission.

Volunteer work offers unique opportunities for professional development by providing avenues to enhance your skills, expand your network and strengthen your personal brand. It enables you to step outside of your daily responsibilities (and comfort zone) so you can test the waters in other fields and business functions, igniting personal growth and self-discovery.

If you’ve been in a rut professionally, are in between jobs, looking to reenter the workforce or simply want to get involved and give back, taking time to help others may spark ambition, boost confidence and elicit a positive attitude, all of which directly influence the impression you make upon others. In addition, if you’re looking for a new job, hiring managers increasingly value volunteerism when evaluating candidates.

Aside from the obvious benefit of helping others, volunteering also can provide you with:

Expanded Network

Volunteer activities are great opportunities to meet different kinds of people, including those who are influential and well-connected. You may meet fellow organizational volunteers, donors, strategic partners, clients, investors and leaders. By getting involved with a cause that you care about, you have a common ground on which to initiate relationships with others who share that commitment.

Growing your network may extend beyond the immediate organizational community too. For example, if you serve on the board of your local chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America, listing the association on your LinkedIn profile increases your visibility in relation to the larger organization, its stakeholders and the cause on a broader scale. This can drive expansion of your network as well.

As you meet new people, be sure to cultivate relationships by connecting in meaningful ways on an ongoing basis, beyond an initial email or connection on LinkedIn.

For more networking guidance, check out Tips for Successful Networking and How to Follow Up Effectively When Networking.

Sharpened Skills

Perhaps you’ve thought about pursuing a new role, but lack experience with a key qualification, or you’re a bit rusty with some of the requirements. Stepping outside of your day job and into a volunteer project affords you the chance to learn new professional skills while sharpening others.

Some of the highly transferable skills you can strengthen or develop include conducting presentations, public speaking, managing teams, projects and budgets, coordinating events, liaising with sponsors, fundraising and mentoring. If you chair a committee, you can hone leadership skills, and if the group meets remotely, you can sharpen remote team management experience as well.

Broader Knowledge

If you’ve focused on a single functional area over the course of your career (like marketing or finance) and would like to broaden your experience and knowledge base, volunteering can help make that happen. Additionally, you can gain an insider’s perspective into the inner workings of a nonprofit and other industries as well. This exposure is particularly helpful for those considering a career change or pivot into a different job function or industry.

If you serve on a nonprofit board, it can lay the groundwork for future leadership positions and board seats at public and private companies (in addition to other nonprofits). In some cases, your involvement can turn into a full-time paid position at the organization.

Increased Confidence

If you’re in between jobs, reentering the workforce or transitioning from a part-time role, your confidence might be lacking. Pursuing a meaningful volunteer experience can be a catalyst to feeling more productive, helpful and valuable. Your improved confidence and self-worth will come across when meeting others and you’ll make a stronger first impression. A poised and positive impression is essential when networking — especially when pursuing your next opportunity.

Reinvigorated Professional Aspirations

The expertise and skills you draw from as a volunteer or volunteer board member can make a difference in an organization, industry, community and individual lives. Seeing the direct results of your time and contribution is a reward unto itself and it may also drive a new approach to how you do your job, both broadly speaking and on a daily basis.

In addition, working with and mentoring passionate, dedicated people is invigorating. The resulting inspiration, connection and engagement can motivate you to lead and collaborate more effectively. It can also help drive your career to the next level, whether within your current organization or outside of it.

Enhanced Visibility and Credibility

Utilizing your expertise to contribute meaningfully to an organization’s mission and goals can elevate your professional reputation and reinforce sought-after qualities like being dedicated, strategic, creative, insightful, collaborative, a key advisor and guide, an effective communicator and someone who gets things done. Your visibility and value within the organization and its stakeholders will grow. Organizational leaders, volunteers and board members may know the benefits of working with you firsthand, which can be helpful when pursuing future professional opportunities.

If serving on a nonprofit board, the appointment is a public endorsement of your expertise and value, showing that an organization entrusts you with a vital, visible and influential role. You can communicate and promote this affiliation, raising your professional profile among your peers, within your organization and possibly across your industry. Board affiliation can also enhance the brand and reputation of the organization for which you work. Altogether, this can help strengthen your candidacy for a promotion, new role or board position and increase your value in the workplace.

Giving back to causes, initiatives and groups that you feel passionate about – through donation of your time and talent – not only helps advance missions that you care about, but it also drives professional growth and career advancement. When you give of yourself, you gain back deepened interests, a broader network, greater influence and a stronger personal brand.

For more tips on strengthening your personal brand, read 6 Essentials to Sharpen Your Professional Image.

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