Volunteering = Career Development

I have always been a volunteer. I have just simply believed in the importance of giving time and resources when and if you are able. I have had the pleasure of serving on the Associates Board for Working in the Schools (WITS), a literacy nonprofit in Chicago, for the past three years. For the past eight months, I have had the honor of serving as the President of the board.

Everyone knows that volunteering is a great thing to do. Personally, I think we all owe it to our communities. And let’s be honest, it feels great to know you’re helping a child or making someone’s day a little easier. It is also a great way to meet new people and forge new friendships. One of my primary reasons for joining a board was to meet new people it has brought into my life new best friends and a roommate.

There is also another great reward that results from volunteering: career development. And I don’t just mean the typical resume booster of listing charities and charitable events under your community involvement section. I am talking about actual career development.

Exposure to a New Network

Whether it’s fair or not, many situations in life can be enhanced through the “who you know” factor. Many charities are supported by top-level executives, local business owners, and well-connected civic leaders – great people to have in your “who you know” drawer. And my experience has shown me that these people are more than willing and happy to make time for young professionals involved with a group they are committed to as well.

The ability to effectively network refines your communication and relationship building skills; both of which are crucial to being an effective manager, leader, entrepreneur, etc. I have seen people from my board effectively network with the superiors associated to our board and utilize their relationships within their new network to leverage a new job opportunity or as a reference on a grad school application. Many have also found great mentors to guide them professionally and personally.

Experience in a new Sector

Very few of us know exactly what we want to do with our lives and our careers when we’re in our twenties and even thirties. Many of us will change jobs a number of times before we find that “right fit” or the company/job that makes us feel fulfilled, happy and challenged. Involvement with a nonprofit board can offer a number of opportunities to gain PR experience; event planning, serving as a spokesperson at events or meetings, social media outreach on behalf of the charity’s programs or policies, etc.

Leadership Opportunities Outside of the Office

Leadership skills are crucial to career development and growth. Taking on a leadership role within a charity group shows initiative, a desire to improve upon one’s skills, and a willingness to commit your time to a greater cause. A leader on a nonprofit board is tasked with the sometimes difficult mission of earning the respect of and leading a group of peers while at the same time focusing on earning the respect of superiors. A young professional who can harness this skill is in a great position to continue to advance as a leader in his or her career.

Tips for Getting the Most out of Volunteering 


1. Find your passion. Choose a charity that’s mission is focused on something you are interested in or helps a demographic you really care about. People can tell the difference between a true genuine desire to help and an underlying motive of just helping yourself.

2. Network, Network, Network. Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself to everyone and reach out to new people. Don’t be someone who stands like a wallflower in the corner at events or never provides any input during meetings. People are there for the same reasons, find out their story and tell them yours.

3. Focus on relationships. Don’t dive right into asking people what they can do for you and your career. Focus on building real relationships and making real connections first. Once you do that, people will want to help you and want to further connect with you.

4. Make the commitment. Don’t be a half-assed member; make it worth your time and the time of the other people involved. Actual involvement is where your relationships and true leadership experience will develop from. Remember: the more you give, the more you get.

As it happens, WITS is holding its annual Blackboard Affair this Friday, February 24th, and for more information you can go to WITS Chicago Masquerade Ball and we’d love you to join us if you are in the area! Nevertheless, start searching Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. for charity boards in your city. It’s amazing the amount of organizations out there in need of hard-working, positive young professionals who are committed to helping their community. And then enjoy the relationship as your community, in turn, starts to help you.

Megan Findlay

Megan Findlay is the Regional Sales Manager at 1888 Mills and the President, of Associates Board at Working in the Schools (WITS) in Chicago, IL.

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