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Serving as a Volunteer Helps You Build Useful Career Skills

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Giving back to your community is a selfless act of service. According to Volunteers Week, volunteering connects you to new communities and can be an important career-building technique.  However, in our current COVID-19 pandemic environment, both companies and potential interns have had to rethink what volunteerism looks like.

Volunteer Experiences Are Invaluable

I’ve really benefited from volunteering – both personally and professionally – for the past 30 years. In high school, I participated in a community group that helped homeless people. People Aligned to Deliver Shelter (PADS) provided meals and a safe place for the homeless to sleep; they also received counseling about helpful community services.

I volunteered for PADS on a monthly basis and helped out wherever I was needed. I checked people in, served meals and had conversations with anyone who needed an ear.

Over time, my responsibilities increased. As a high school student, I received more leadership opportunities that were originally reserved for adults.

While I gave my time and talents to others, I gained a lot as well. I learned the true meaning of compassion and empathy as I worked with other people, and I gained invaluable organization and budget management skills.

I’ve used these skills in other volunteer organizations as well as in my professional career. As a volunteer, I was able to test out my leadership and management skills. I served as a manager and a team leader; I also presented formal proposals to my volunteer organization.

Volunteering Is Empowering in Different Ways

I’m a living example that being a volunteer can impact you both personally and professionally. On a personal level, you get to be a part of a greater cause and mission. There is power in numbers, so having tens, hundreds or even thousands of volunteers working toward a single goal is empowering. Professionally, volunteer activities show your deep understanding of a cause and give you the chance to demonstrate your skill set in a variety of settings.

According to Grow Ensemble, “Many nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers to accomplish day-to-day objectives and to reach long-term goals. Most nonprofits would not be able to do the important work they do without the power of volunteer work. Volunteering your time, skills, and resources is one of the most powerful ways to make a difference, to help others, and as it turns out, to enhance your wellbeing.”

Grow Ensemble also notes that there are seven benefits to volunteering:

1. Meeting new people and building community Volunteering can connect you with a new network of people.

2. Gaining more knowledge and an understanding of other ways of life – Volunteering builds your empathy and helps you learn about alternate approaches to life’s problems.

4. Boosting your self-esteem – Volunteering helps you build an invaluable skillset, which can build your self-esteem.

5. Improving your marketability Volunteering in your potential career field can show your dedication and provide you with an edge over other job applicants.

6. Improving your mental and physical health According to the Mayo Clinic, there are numerous positive health benefits to volunteering, including reduced stress, a longer life and reduced depression.

7. Increasing your brain functions Volunteers often report being more physically and mentally active, which directly relates to the improvement of brain functioning.

The Drawbacks of Volunteering

While volunteering sounds like a win-win situation for all involved, there can be some challenges if volunteer work is not executed correctly. I’ve encountered both positive and negative volunteer experiences, so beware of the drawbacks to volunteering:

1. The tasks may be entry-level or clerical, and they may not fit your skill set.

2. If you are trying to gain a new skill set, it may be challenging to acquire responsibility in an area where you’ve never worked.

3. You may not receive recognition for your accomplishments.

4. Volunteering can be time-consuming, and the key activities may not fit your schedule.

5. Some organizations will provide increasingly difficult work for you to do, because you are considered free labor.

6. Starting the volunteer process may be cumbersome.

Volunteering in a Virtual Environment

There are now requirements for high school students and college students to volunteer, and companies have developed volunteer programs specifically for these groups. If you are volunteering for a specific purpose or requirement, be sure to follow these steps:

1. Get it in writing. Knowing how many hours you will work, your specific work duties and how your work will be evaluated are important.

2. Check in with your supervisor regularly. Just like in a professional environment, schedule regular check-ins with your manager to ensure you are meeting the organization’s expectations.

3. Ask for a letter of recommendation. Asking for a letter of recommendation ensures your activities will be documented, and the letter can be used for job-seeking purposes.

As a professor at the University, I cannot stress enough the importance of volunteering in both the in-person and virtual environments. At the University, you can volunteer to become a mentor, community moderator, chapter officer or social media influencer through the campus leadership program. Campus leaders can be faculty, staff, students and alumni.

In addition, you can participate in student organizations that regularly host service opportunities. These service opportunities occur in both virtual environments and in physical locations around the globe. The service opportunities range from improving literacy to addressing community hunger and sending thank-you cards to those who serve in the military.

According to writer Joanne Fritz of The Balance, the lines between virtual and in-person volunteering are blurring. Fritz notes that for many people, virtual volunteering can result in:

  • More opportunities to volunteer for multiple causes and organizations
  • More time to volunteer
  • Flexibility in scheduling, location and level of involvement
  • A unique outlet for skills or passions that aren’t met by physical volunteering
  • More positions for disabled or very remote volunteers
  • Fulfilling education or career milestones

Virtual volunteering allows you to commit your time and services away from the physical site of an organization, project, or campaign. Virtual volunteers work over the internet via computer, tablet or phone to provide skilled services to support an important cause.

Volunteering is an old tradition with new benefits. In the pandemic environment, it is a way to build community and to be a part of a larger cause. Companies can adopt virtual volunteers as a way to strengthen community ties and build a pipeline of future team members.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). She is the creator of the Professor S.T.E.A.M. Children’s Book Series, which brings tomorrow’s concepts to future leaders today. A global speaker, STE(A)M advocate, and STE(A)M communicator, she holds a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Meteorology and Water Resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University. She is a faculty member in Transportation and Logistics for the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and specializes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in transportation, education, and technology.

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