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Three Ways Strategic Volunteering Elevates Your Career

Posted by: NIC Online Date: August 18, 2020 Category: Blog Employment

No matter the type of job seeker you are, whether you have recently lost your job due to COVID-19, are employed yet bored and finding yourself seeking meaningful activities, returning to work after a long absence, intending on making a career change but unsure where to start, job searching may seem like an impossible endeavor. And that doesn’t even account for also coping with the impacts of COVID-19!

As the pandemic has driven unemployment in Canada to 13 percent, job searching is more competitive and requires some creative and adaptive thinking. Now more than ever, one needs to stand out from the crowd. Albert Einstein said,“Try not to become a person of success but a person of value.” In this new economy, the ultimate career investment is to become a person of value.  Offering value has become the way of growing your career.

How do you offer value? Michelle Obama famously said, “Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” Making a difference in society through volunteering has been proven countless times as a way to merge purposeful work while adding value in your career.

Volunteering in Canada is highly valued. According to Statistics Canada, over 12.8 million Canadians aged 15 and older volunteered for charities, nonprofit and community organizations in 2018. This represents 1.6 billion hours, or 858 000 jobs.

Research and real case studies have shown time and time again that strategic volunteering has the power to not just enrich, but reshape your career. To start with, what is strategic volunteering? It occurs when you choose a volunteer role that incorporates your personal and/or professional goals so that they are aligned to the volunteer service you incorporate into your life.

Though volunteering often brings to mind chopping onions for a local soup kitchen on a Sunday morning, a recent movement has emerged. There is now much interest  in making a difference in society as well as boosting your career. In fact, a 2018 study published in Social Science Research revealed that those who volunteer typically see an increase in salary. Not only is volunteering connected to an increased salary, but it seems it has also been known to contribute to more happiness and fulfillment.

Here are some  ways that strategic volunteering, while certainly a rewarding pursuit in its own right, also serves to help you navigate your career.

Build new skills 

Are you looking to build leadership skills, but are not sure where to start, either since your recent job loss or because your current workplace does not give you the opportunities? Now is the time to create your own opportunities. It is during volunteer pursuits that you can seek to develop the leadership skills you have always longed for. For instance, if you wish to develop your public speaking abilities, volunteer as an outreach coordinator for a nonprofit organization and prepare presentations to represent the organization in community and corporate contexts. Add this new skill to your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Expand your digital network

As with many professional contexts, networking within your own organization may seem like it isn’t opening up anything new. Alternatively, if you have lost your job, creating a new network can be more challenging than ever. Job opportunities are often presented through the network you build, and volunteering can be key in identifying these new opportunities. Spending merely a few hours a week in a completely new context, with different people who have different expertise and backgrounds, is sure to help you to broaden your own perspective and expand your personal and professional growth. Building a network through volunteering will help you to discover new opportunities, either within your current organization or during the job search process.

Create your own passion project

Do you have specific skill sets you have practiced for at least three years that you are keen on sharing? Showcase these skills in volunteer opportunities where you can create a large impact by sharing your pro bono skills with a nonprofit organization! Since nonprofit organizations often lack access to resources, such as communications and marketing, human resources, grant writing, and operational support, all too often organizations would benefit from customized subject matter expertise rather than more general help from volunteers.  Learn about how the national nonprofit Taproot Foundation connects nonprofits and social change organizations with passionate business professionals who share their expertise pro bono.

Explore a variety of organizations’ missions and learn about their volunteer opportunities. If you have a dream to share your expertise with a particular organization that inspires you, but don’t see a posted volunteer opportunity that interests you, consider reaching out to the organization to find out how you might make your own unique contribution. Propose your own passion project to the organization.

When applying for a new job or career opportunity, volunteering and pro bono activities typically showcase your intrinsic motivation to contribute to your greater community and this often drives your career forward because it is highly valued by employers.

Job seekers, career transitioners, and fellow professionals, I promise you that making a difference while taking risks in a new organization will be worthwhile! We all have a purpose in life and we must use our unique talents to express that purpose. As Kallam Anji Reddy famously said, it is “when we blend this unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal of all goals.”


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