By Damita Chambers
I have worked in nonprofit organizations for eight years, mostly in communications and community outreach roles. Over time, I became stagnant in my career and only sought out professional development opportunities related to my job at a nonprofit domestic and sexual violence organization.
About a year and a half ago, I started volunteering with some local nonprofits to explore my other interests and learn new skills. It was one of the best things I could have done. Based on my experience, here are the top 10 ways volunteering can boost your nonprofit career:
10. It can be fun way to de-stress.
Working in a marketing job in a local nonprofit could be stressful at times. I often wrote organizational responses to media requests and worked through big picture challenges. But when I tutored my adult ESL literary student, supervised family visits at a local women’s prison, or sold concessions at a community theater, I focused solely on the people I served, so I could just enjoy the moment.
9. It can refuel your passion.
I began working in nonprofits in 2004 as an AmeriCorps VISTA because of my passion for community service. As a volunteer mentor with the local YWCA’s program for teen mothers, I built relationships with the teens and encouraged them to work toward their personal and professional goals. Those one-on-one interactions always reminded me why I started working in nonprofits in the first place.
8. It can expose you to a new way of doing things.
I began a training required for volunteer tutors at a local literacy council, while I was working as the coordinator for my nonprofit’s volunteer program. I learned that the literacy council led “train the trainer” sessions to prepare longtime volunteers to lead the tutor workshops – my nonprofit had traditionally relied on staff to lead the entire volunteer training. I saw merits of the literacy council’s approach and soon afterward began working with volunteers to lead sessions in my nonprofit’s training.
7. It can help you find partners to support your nonprofit’s work.
I was volunteering at a community theater when my nonprofit started looking for free venues to host a play on sexual violence. I saw an opportunity to leverage my connection to the theater to help find space for the event. I reached out to the theater’s president. Although the theater could not accommodate the production in the spring, the president was willing to offer free space later in the year, partly because I was an active volunteer who worked with a local nonprofit.
6. It can allow you to learn and practice new skills.
I had never tutored adults before volunteering with the literacy council. Becoming an adult literacy tutor required me to complete a 12-hour training to be certified with ProLiteracy, an international nonprofit literacy organization. I also received a ProLiteracy membership, which gave me access to online tools to prepare lesson plans. I regularly use those new skills and resources when working with my student.
5. It can help expand your personal and professional networks.
By volunteering with the local YWCA, literacy council, community theater, and inmate parenting program, I have met a lot of influential volunteers and community leaders. I also developed bonds with the nonprofits’ staffs, who have not only offered to give me references for future opportunities but have also suggested useful career and networking events.
4. It allows you to tap into interests that you may not explore in your job.
Tutoring an adult ESL student twice a week allows me to explore my passion for education, which is very different from the community outreach work I did in my job. Mentoring teen moms in the YWCA’s program gave me the opportunity to work on another passion: youth development. And although the concessions stand is far from the stage, I satisfy my interest in the performing arts by volunteering at the community theater – and I get to see shows for free!
3. It can open up new leadership opportunities.
After a few months of actively volunteering with the inmate parenting program, I was asked to consider a position on the board of directors. Not only did the staff value the skills I used in my job, but they also appreciated my volunteer service by asking me to take on a new leadership role. An unexpected outcome of volunteering, this opportunity gave me a chance to develop skills I didn’t get to use in my job, like evaluating a nonprofit budget.
2. Employers value employees (and job candidates) who volunteer.
My supervisor recognized the benefit of my connection to other nonprofits as a volunteer. I offered to represent my nonprofit at community events hosted by the organizations where I volunteered, like health fairs at the women’s prison and a block party at the YWCA. Volunteering can also help you land your next job – a 2011 LinkedIn survey shows that one in five U.S. hiring managers agree they have hired candidates because of their volunteer experience.
1. It can broaden your understanding of important community issues and nonprofit trends.
Volunteering with different nonprofits outside of my job gave me a first-hand glimpse at how low literacy, teen pregnancy, and female incarceration are connected to domestic and sexual violence. Learning more about the intersection between these issues has helped me become a more thoughtful and conscientious nonprofit professional, as well as heightened my appreciation for the trend toward collaboration in the nonprofit sector. It has also informed my perspective on how nonprofits can best work together to address community problems.
I’d love to hear your stories about volunteering as a nonprofit professional. Share your comments in the section below.
This post was written by Damita Chambers, a YNPNdc Network Member, nonprofit professional, and volunteer, who is relocating to Baltimore from Raleigh, NC.
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