How Volunteering Can Jumpstart Your Career as a Non-Profit Professional
If you are new to the non-profit workforce or looking to change careers, it can be difficult to find relevant work experience. You might even conclude that your extensive work experience or robust skill set does not meet the requirements for the entry-level position you are eyeing.
Sure, you can keep applying and hoping that a company will take a chance on you for an open position. However, there is a better way to get relevant experience, and that way is to volunteer!
Why should you volunteer?
The first reason that most likely comes to mind is that it will look good on your resume. Although this can be true, the benefit of listing it on your resume goes far beyond demonstrating that you are a good person, well-balanced, and have multiple interests. When you enter the workforce, volunteer work no longer should be viewed the same way you would view putting extracurricular activities on your college application. The benefits of volunteering are many.
1. It is an opportunity to gain valuable skills that can be applied directly to the workplace. Volunteer work does not have to be simply making care packages or working events. There is a long list of skills and experience that can be leveraged to help support non-profits. With a little research, you can find the right opportunity that will allow you to build on the skill set you already have. Although, it is important to note some non-profits may be looking for an expert in a particular field. If you are completely new or have minimal knowledge of a certain subject, it is important to let them know and try to work out a way for you to contribute without being expected to do more than you know.
2. Volunteering expands your network. Volunteering is a great way to meet people and professionals you would otherwise not come into contact with. Not only are you networking, but you are also working together for a cause you are both passionate about. This can lead to a more meaningful and impactful connection that can help bolster you as a professional. To emphasize how important networking can be, especially when looking for a new position, networking is more of an effective means than directly applying by a factor of 3:1 and 7:1 for those who never network. It is also a great way to find references.
3. Improves your mental well-being. Volunteering can help those struggling with stress, anxiety, anger, depression, and increase self-confidence, sense of purpose, and physical activity. Making connections with others provides a sense of fulfillment, helps you build a support system, provides structure, and gives you a natural sense of accomplishment. Improving your mental well-being can improve your job performance and improve your ability to make connections and do well in interviews.
Where to look for volunteer opportunities
Now that we have gone over the benefits and importance of volunteering, let's go over where to find these opportunities. You can simply look up your local animal shelters, libraries, youth organizations, and churches and look into the opportunities they have. However, there are many websites that make it very easy to find the right opportunity. My personal favorites are VolunteerMatch, Catchafire, Idealist, and VolunteerLA. I enjoy how these sites distinguish opportunities by desired interests. I really like how Catchafire specifically sorts volunteer opportunities by not only interests but by hours dedicated and how long you are assigned to a project. Refer to Indeed's article, 30 Websites To Help You Find a Volunteer Opportunity, for a more extensive breakdown of the different types of websites that help connect you to volunteer opportunities.
Can't fit volunteering into your busy schedule?
We are all balancing a million things at once as is, it may feel really overwhelming and outright impossible to add another thing to the list. Non-profits understand that you have other responsibilities and appreciate any help you can give. Don't feel pressured if it's only a few hours a week, one day a month, or even a couple of hours a month. The fact is any help can go a long way and is heavily appreciated. Think about when you are free during your normal week. It can be Monday mornings, Thursday afternoon or every other Saturday. Experiment with the days and times until you find a couple that works. If you are busy with home responsibilities and can't leave the house, there are plenty of remote opportunities available as well. Remote volunteer opportunities allow you to work on your skills while still taking care of your personal responsibilities. It's important not to look at volunteer opportunities like you're working for free. Your time is valuable and when you volunteer, you are also creating value for the organization. You're building on your skills and working towards future opportunities while helping a great cause.
Volunteering is a great way to increase your relevant work experience while providing a variety of other benefits. Volunteering also increases mental well-being, networking opportunities, and provides a unique opportunity to gain valuable skills. Although your schedule may seem too busy to fit in time to volunteer, I challenge you to sit down and brainstorm hours you may be free. Try to prioritize your future and take advantage of the possible skills, connections, and overall health benefits that volunteering presents.