Volunteerism: 6 Thoughts to get You to Yes!

Volunteering can do a lot more than fill the time (and your résumé) while you search for a paying gig. Here are six considerations to make volunteerism work better for everyone. As I write this, I also hope that it inspires you to help now.

Get into it. If you decide to volunteer, work hard to make a difference. Non-profits that give you the chance to contribute have very limited resources, including time. They don’t need someone who is not committed. They need help.

Match your volunteerism to your skills. If you are an accountant, look for opportunities to use your accounting skills. Are you a marketing person? That non-profit could probably use you to improve its social media program. The idea is this: you can make a large impact by doing what you do best. Someone needs to work the serving line at the soup kitchen – and that role is very important – but many can do that job, while few can audit the 2013 financials. What is the opportunity cost of a certified project manager cleaning pots in the kitchen while she could be managing an important initiative?

TIP: Check www.Catchafire.org for skills-based pro bono opportunities (I have done two projects through them, and they are great!). www.Volunteermatch.org is another resource for skills-based volunteer opportunities. Are you a member of a faith community? Check there, too. LinkedIn offers a new volunteerism page. Finally, some towns and cities have local volunteer opportunity directories. There is a lot you can do!

Getting out of the house will help you. One of the bigger problems of unemployment and under-employment is the isolation and feelings of inadequacy that come with it. Find a role that gets you out into a professional setting where you can interact with other people. The contact will help you and the organization, and it will give others the chance to learn more about you. Obviously, you will build your network, too.

Positive feedback fuels motivation. Think about it, who doesn’t like some recognition for a job well done? Here is a not-so-secret: non-profits can’t give you money, but they are very appreciative of all volunteers. They will tell you how much they value you, and that will make you feel great, and that will make you want to do more – and do it better – in every area of your life.

You will have fresh stories. Good stories are the secret to a great résumé and interviewing experience. When you can tell about an accomplishment in a compelling, convincing, high-energy way in an interview, the hiring manager will sense your genuineness and credibility. That can only help. Won’t it be better to have a fresh 2014 experience, rather than a stale story from a few years ago, when you sit and answer the questions?

Treat your volunteerism like a job. Your professionalism and skills use will make a difference in how you see yourself and how you sell yourself for a paying job. If you are using all of your professional skills to benefit the non-profit organization and its constituents, you will feel much better about selling the experience as valid and relevant when you market yourself for a paid position.

This could be #7, but I thought it too obvious to treat it that way. No matter how tough your situation , there are others in much tighter spots. They need your help. Go do it, and get ready to make your own list about the value of volunteerism.

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Five Reasons to Make One Decision: Catchafire

Tanzania flagI wrote in September about Catchafire, an organization that matches social-good enterprises with professionals looking for meaningful volunteer opportunities. I stepped forward to apply for some work and promised to tell you about it. Our project had a delayed start, but here’s the report (finally!).

The GLK Student Fund raises money and grants scholarships to needy and worthy students in Tanzania. GLK took a chance on me as a pro bono professional. My project included some important copywriting work. Here is what I discovered in the process.

  1. GLK, like so many other small non-profits, is driven by committed people looking to make a difference. As I worked with Gayle at GLK, it became obvious to me that she was putting every ounce of energy into her work meeting the needs of these students. Witnessing that energy, commitment and sacrifice was and continues to be an inspiration (especially on those low energy days that we all sometimes experience)
  2. These organizations value and respect the opinions and contributions of pro bono professionals. If you are feeling under-appreciated at work, grab one of these volunteer gigs. You will be a huge help and will feel better about your work, value and place in the world.
  3. Catchafire lets you filter and search for just the right project. Select your skill, filter by organizational mission, and get to work helping in a way that can stir your soul. The GLK work was a perfect match for me on several levels. Look and you’ll find one that works for you, too.
  4. After completing the project, I have stayed in touch with Gayle and we have been sharing ideas that have gone beyond the project. This has turned into a meaningful professional friendship. Who doesn’t like that?
  5. Doing this work allowed me to be creative and got me engaged thinking about something outside of my day-to-day. Before this project, I never would have known that the per capita income in Tanzania is less than $600 or just how difficult getting a decent education there can be. I can even point to the country on a map. What will inspire and challenge you?

What are your plans to do something different and meaningful in 2013? You don’t know who needs you until you look. I welcome any questions that you have and hope that you will share your experiences. Do something that really matters to celebrate the New Year!

Be sure to follow this blog and share your stories. Thanks for visiting!

Volunteer Matching: A Firsthand Report

Much has been said recently about the value of volunteering. Job seekers, including those in my seminars and classes, ask the questions, “Should I volunteer and can I include it in my résumé and LinkedIn profile?” Yes, you should. Yes, you can. The harder advice to give has been how and where to look for volunteer opportunities. Here is one option that I share not as an interested observer, but as a participant in the process. I hope that it helps and informs your thoughts on what you can and should do.

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a long-time friend. We were catching up on each other’s career stories when he mentioned a website called Catchafire. Had I heard of it? No. Henry explained that it was like a Monster job board for matching professionals interested in volunteer opportunities with social-good organizations needing help. It sounded interesting and I investigated.

Catchafire allows volunteers (PBPs : pro bono professionals) to identify causes in which they are interested (e.g. childhood education, women’s rights, etc.) and their skills (e.g. accounting, web design, copywriting). The site then offers open assignments that it thinks are good matches. The PBP browses the assistance requests and, if interested, applies for the job. I decided to try it.

Here are a few observations from having gone through the process. First, if you are going to do this yourself, be prepared to spend some time to set up your Catchafire profile. The fastest and easiest way is to import your LinkedIn profile. Second, be prepared for a screening and selection process that is not unlike applying for a paying position. When a PBP applies for a job, the requesting organization and Catchafire’s team will ask questions and request work samples. This is more than just raising your hand and getting the gig.

Catchafire is able to pay its staff and keep the computers running by earning a fee from the organization requesting the services of the PBP. It’s easy to understand why they want good people who can and will fulfill their commitments. The non-profit gets professional services at a greatly reduced rate, far below market value. The volunteer gets the satisfaction of working on a project that best matches her or his skills while doing something that matters, and maybe has earned another résumé bullet. Plus, there is the intangible benefit of making new connections and getting your name and work more widely known.

I have been accepted for my first assignment. The writing work begins in October. I will be sure to share an update, including information about the organization for which I am working, as the effort gets going. Check it out for yourself and maybe you can Catchafire, too.

Check out these two blog posts for a little more about volunteering: Energized by Work and Ready or Not. Enjoy!