Volunteering, why bother?

Published on
August 9, 2020
Time to read: 
Think about things differently
White neon words on a black background says "Think about things differently" with the word differently upside down. Thanks to Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels https://www.pexels.com/@ibertola

I live in Ontario, Canada, where High School students are normally required to complete 40 hours of volunteering to graduate.  According to the Ontario Ministry of Education website this has been a requirement since the 1999/2000 academic year and “The purpose of the community involvement requirement is to encourage students to develop awareness and understanding of civic responsibility and of the role they can play and the contributions they can make in supporting and strengthening their communities.” I believe that most people don’t realize how beneficial volunteering can be.
I recommend volunteering to anyone trying to find a new job, career path, or way to practice skills they want to do in future roles. For example, if someone wants to be hired for a role where they need financial literacy, such as interpreting an organization’s income statements and balance sheets, they could volunteer to be the Treasurer of a not for profit organization. Their volunteer role highlights their capability to perform this transferable.

A realistic job preview is when a candidate gets the opportunity to try on a job for size. Some organizations offer paid training periods to learn what it would be like to work for them. Many offer internships, both paid and unpaid, as a form of realistic job preview, that also has the benefit of giving a candidate some experience in that field. Volunteering is another way to get a realistic job preview.  The advantage of being a volunteer, is that if you didn’t like the role, you don’t have to mention it when looking for a new job.  You can choose to only mention volunteer gigs that are applicable to the role you aspire to, the ones that gave you relevant experience.

Volunteering is also a great way to network. Especially for those who are uncomfortable participating in what most people consider to be networking, that is meeting and greeting strangers at an event.  While you’re volunteering, you get to meet new people who presumably have at least some interests in common with you, as you’re both volunteering at the same organization. As volunteers, you have specific tasks to complete, which means that you have something to talk about. Most volunteers have networks, people they know who work in a variety of fields.  As you get to know each other, and they see your work, they may ask if they can introduce you to people in the career field that you’re interested in.

Did you know that the vast majority of jobs are still filled by word of mouth? People know someone is hiring, and they share that information with someone they think would be a good fit. A lot of people don’t realize that small businesses employ about 70% of those working in Ontario. Many small businesses don’t have human resources departments. They rely on word of mouth, local employment services agencies, co-op and summer jobs programs, to find new employees.

The people you volunteer for, are a great source of references. Especially if you’re new to the job market and don’t have a lot of paid experience.

There are other reasons to volunteer, beyond the mercenary ones of getting job experience, good references and expanding your network. If you choose to volunteer for roles that interest you, with organizations who share your values, then you’ll find the experience rewarding because you’ll feel good about what you accomplish.

The vast majority of the volunteer roles I’ve undertaken over the past 40 years, have been with organizations who influence positive social change and help others thrive. For example as a Girl Guide leader, I helped adolescent and teenaged girls learn leadership and organizational skills. I learned as much about arts, crafts and camping from the other leaders as the girls did. I also got to learn how to lead volunteers as I held different roles within the Girl Guide Districts and Divisions that I volunteered with. These leadership lessons were transferable to some of the projects I’ve completed with other groups of volunteers since then.

In my last few years within the military, working full time, studying part time, as a spouse, and the parent of young children, many people asked me why I still volunteered. I chose to volunteer, because I enjoyed feeling like I was paying forward some of what I’d learned. I also like helping people thrive.  When I became a veteran, I chose to change the focus of my volunteer roles, to become more active in my professional associations. I volunteered because I enjoyed it, and at the same time, it gave me the opportunity to expand my network beyond the military and veterans’ organizations. Being a volunteer eventually led to paying gigs as an entrepreneur.

In answer to my question, in the title, “Volunteering, why bother?” There is always something to learn in new experiences. Volunteer with organizations that share your values, to do things that you enjoy doing, or would like to try doing. The benefits may include some or all of the following: teach you transferable skills, expand your network, give you leads for jobs that are not publicly posted, give your references, give you business ideas, and may even help you feel a sense of accomplishment.

What sort of volunteer roles do you enjoy?