The Power of Volunteering – Skill Development and Networking
About half of all Canadians and 25 per cent of Americans volunteer in some way each year. This includes coaching kids’ sports, visiting seniors, sitting on boards and a variety of other volunteering activities.
We can all list a number of benefits organizations get from the work of volunteers. But how often do we think about the benefits to the individual? Going beyond personal fulfillment, volunteering also helps in skill development and creates new networking opportunities.
I am just ending a 14-month volunteer position as Public Relations Co-Chair for the Cowichan 2018 BC Summer Games. I got involved in the usual way – a friend asked me to volunteer. At first I said no, thinking I had enough on my plate. But then, with some convincing, I said yes. And so started a busy, crazy and rewarding journey.
Having managed a media center for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, I was not new to working large sporting events. But the difference this time was I wasn’t getting paid for the countless hours in meetings, writing press releases, working with the media as well as recruiting and organizing a team of volunteers. And this was all before the Games even began.
As I wrap up the experience, it got me thinking about the personal benefits I, and the other 2,500+ people who volunteered for this event, received. It goes beyond the joy of watching youth compete, stands full of cheering supporters and documenting incredible human interests stories. (Including a horse that spent 10 years living in a field with little human contact, then rescued by 12-year-old girl and her coach. This rider spent numerous hours first getting the horse used to people, then teaching her to jump. Three years later this determined girl and her horse won a gold medal at the equestrian jumping competition at the Cowichan 2018 BC Summer Games).
Some of the professional and personal benefits of volunteering include:
- Expanded network. We tend to spend most of our time with the same personal and professional network, rarely expanding our circle. Volunteering is a great way to meet people you otherwise would never come into contact with.
- New points of view. With these new faces, often comes new approaches to doing things. Just because you’ve always done things one way, doesn’t mean another approach won’t work. Who knows what you will learn?
- Resume fresh up. Let’s face it, new experiences are a great way to expand your resume. Volunteer experience shows employers you have a heart and care about the community. This could mean the difference between getting a job and not.
- Learn new skills. Volunteering is a great way to learn or test out skills outside of your core work. If you’re an engineer, volunteering in public relations will give you a chance to learn to write in a less formal way, often with free training provided.
- Have fun. Many of us could use a break from the structure and routine of our day jobs. There are less rules and more room for creativity in volunteering. And if you don’t like it, you can leave and try another volunteer opportunity.
When was the last time you volunteered? Did you volunteer for something in your day-to-day scope of work or did you ventured into a new area? What lessons did you learn? What new friends did you make? And most importantly, what volunteering hat are you going to try on next? No role is too big or too small. What’s important is you take the time to give back to your community.