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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Unplug. Live.

Your life is more than your Facebook page. The same is true for your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter feed and any other social media that you use. Your life and mine are defined by our relationships with real people that we see, hear and touch. Family, friends, colleagues, customers, clients, and partners in volunteer and civic work all make up our lives. Social media is a side dish, not the main course.

The Atlantic ran a story in May 2012, posing the question, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” A response printed in the July/August issue stopped me mid-sentence and prompted this blog article. Here is an excerpt: “I spend a lot of time on Facebook but have essentially zero in-person friends… (I’m) lonely. I need to figure out how I’ve let my personal life become almost solely defined as an online activity.” How sad!

The social media play a role in our lives. Like anything else, the many sites we use and devices enabled to access them should be seen as tools, a means to an end, not an end themselves. We can have fun, maintain connections, joke, gossip and do so many things with the technology, but in the end it is an empty pursuit. Unless we jump from virtual friendship to real relationships – a shared meal, a round of golf, help painting a room or caring for a friend’s pet during a vacation – the constant tweets, updates, check-ins and the rest all just suck up time and leave us feeling like Lonely Reader. We ask ourselves, “Where did the time go and why is my life empty of meaning and real relationships?”

The self-centered ME, ME, ME of Facebook can lead to a world in which we are constantly broadcasting, sending updates about our lives, to nobody in particular and sometimes nobody at all. If your latest post isn’t funny, inflammatory or interesting enough, if it doesn’t include a picture or link that gets others talking (or at least clicking), it is the existential tree crashing to the ground without a sound. So what could Lonely Reader do to get a life and maybe a few real friends, someone to share lunch with or a walk through the park?

It’s simple, really. Pick up the phone and call some of those friends. Make a date to meet and do something fun. Get involved in civic, volunteer or religious organizations. As someone involved in leadership roles in both a service organization (Rotary) and my faith community, I assure you that you will be welcome. What are you good at? Volunteer. VolunteerMatch.org is a site that will give you options in your area. Do something to help someone else, moving your focus from yourself onto another.

When we come together and work together towards a common goal or interest, real relationships take root and flourish. And that will be something to tweet about.

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. Contact Bill for help with your job search, career management and personal brand questions.