By Rose Holland
I love to volunteer. For many years, I was that person who said yes to everything. Volunteering has led me to some amazing experiences and places. When I went back to school I had to reevaluate the way in which I volunteered. I was working part-time, managing 3 children’s active schedules and going to school. I wanted a career and realized that I needed to better focus my volunteer work to prepare for my future career. At that point, I realized that in order to continue to volunteer I needed to be strategic about my volunteerism.
Cambridge Dictionary defines strategic as, “helping to achieve a plan.” Volunteer work can help you achieve a plan. It might be exploring a career field, gaining or maintaining skills, or meeting new people. When I started strategically volunteering, my plan was to explore different aspects of my career and expand my skills. I found myself much more enthusiastic in my support of organizations and I was providing a better quality of work to the organizations. Both benefited from this approach.
Why do you volunteer? It may be to support your children, just to have something to do, or to be part of something bigger than yourself. Consider how you can best use your volunteer work for your benefit as well as the organizations. There are many ways in which you can strategically volunteer which will benefit you and the organization.
Explore a New Career Field. Trying to find the right career field can be a challenging task. Volunteering is an excellent way for you to explore a new career field. Not only can you observe those who are in the career, but you can also gain valuable work experience. This experience can assist you in determining if the career field is right for you and what skills are required to succeed. A friend of mine was considering a career as an event planner. She volunteered for our church to assist with events and weddings. This benefited the church as they had an enthusiastic volunteer to take the load of some of the staff. She realized organizational and communication skills would help her succeed in this career field; she also recognized her low tolerance for conflict might make the career a challenge. Learning what you do not like is just as valuable as finding that right fit.
Change Careers. Changing careers can be a challenge. No one wants to have to start at the bottom again and take a drastic pay cut. Strategic volunteering in a new career field can build experience, help you gain some connections in that field, and make this change easier. I know a spouse who retired from the military. She worked in computer programming but volunteered with Red Cross. Red cross gained her expertise in computers, providing a more reliable network. She was able to change careers because of the network she created by participating in volunteering and taking the training offered through Red Cross.
Building or Expanding Skills. Volunteering to build or expand your skills is a way for you to gain documented work experience. I enjoy working as a trainer. I see the trend for more web-based training. To build this skill, I joined the National Guard Volunteer Training Team that provides webinars to volunteers. National Guard benefits because of the quality training provided at no cost. Through this volunteer experience, I have learned to write and present webinars. This experience expands my skills and allows me to apply for positions requiring experience in web-based training.
Filling Gaps in Employment History or Maintaining Skills. As military spouses, we sometimes have times in our life where it is not feasible to work. We also may move to locations with few or no employment opportunities. Volunteerism is one way to fill potential gaps in work history and maintain skills. Think about how you can focus your volunteer work in your career field. For example, a friend of mine is an accountant. When overseas, there were no options for her to work in her profession. She chose to volunteer as a treasurer for the spouse’s club, prepare taxes and serve as an auditor for organizations on post. The organizations benefitted from her expertise in accounting and her resume reflects continuous experience in her chosen field.
Networking. Have you ever heard ‘it’s who you know’ that is important when applying for a job? It is true to a great extent. Volunteering can help you build a network and can lead to a job. One way to utilize volunteerism to network is by volunteering for organizations in your profession. This provides you with connections in your career field and provides the organizations with a dedicated professional who is knowledgeable and passionate about the organization. Another focus is to volunteer for organizations you are passionate about. Some organizations such as the USO, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and American Red Cross hire from their volunteers. Their new employees already understand the organization and its processes and structure making for a seamless transition. For the volunteer, there is nothing better than receiving a call from someone asking if you would like to get paid to do what you have been doing as a volunteer.
Strategic volunteerism does not make you selfish or less of a volunteer. It is mutually beneficial. You provide specific skills that benefit the organization for minimal or no cost. You are highly motivated because you have an opportunity to achieve your personal goals and grow. Achieve your plan through volunteerism!