Volunteering as Professional Development


The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. – Gandhi

I currently serve as the secretary on the board of directors for a community-based nonprofit. While I enjoying volunteering and serving others, I must confess something.

That is not the only reason I volunteer.

I have volunteered in some way or another since I was in high school. Those experiences helped me to develop both personally and professionally. Many of the skills I use in my current job I learned while helping to build a house, leading a youth group at a summer camp, and educating community members about recycling.

Why Volunteer?

Good question, and I’m glad you asked. Competing for your time will be that report that was due yesterday, your nephew’s baseball game, and picking out home decor with your spouse. It seems like the to-do list grows by the day, and trying to add volunteer service onto an already hectic schedule can seem like too much to ask. By not seeking out volunteer opportunities, however, there are certain things that are missed.

1 – Making connections: New partnerships can be made between organizations that did not previously exist. Several of the members on our board are able to bring the resources of their respective employers to bear on our organization’s mission. This helps our nonprofit accomplish more, as well as raising the public visibility of the companies who support it. This point is also pertinent to those on the job or internship hunt as you never know who might be hiring. I can personally attest to the saying that, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

2 – New experiences: Want to take on a new role, but find it difficult to do in your current workplace? Volunteers can try on the shoes of someone else without risking termination from a job first. Whether it involves serving in a leadership role like myself, or providing technical advice in a field you are already familiar with, there are opportunities aplenty to flex some professional muscle before moving to the big leagues.

3 – Developing new skills: Volunteering is a great way to pick up or further develop skills without the commitment of full or part-employment. Interpersonal communication is key in government work, particularly with the diverse audiences that we encounter on a daily basis. As an officer on our board of directors, I am charged with not only providing input during our monthly meetings, but also educating city residents on the mission of our organization. This also ties into another skill that is key in both the volunteer and regular workplace, emotional intelligence. In order to be successful, volunteers must engage with nonprofit staff and recipients of the nonprofit’s services in a way that demonstrates caring and understanding. Emotionally intelligent people can make environments around them more friendly and productive by how they interact with others.

While you may not be compensated monetarily for your efforts by volunteering, the benefits of doing such cannot be ignored. Skills that are developed while volunteering for the nonprofit of your choice easily translate to the workplace. So next time that volunteer opportunity opens up ask yourself two questions:

• Will I enjoy this?
• Will this help me grow as a person?

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you may have found your next professional development opportunity.

Roman Alvarez is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Steve Ressler

Totally agree with #3. The first time I’ve ever managed people, created a strategic plan, and managed a budget were all in volunteer capacities but those skills translated into future work positions.