Could Volunteering Be Your Elevator Up or Down?

Volunteering time and talentLast week I was at an event that focused on women’s participation on boards. Many of attendees and the participants advocated for all professional women to get involved with organizations and get themselves on boards. At another event, the president of the organization announced they were looking for committee members and board members. My local library is promoting a “Adopt An Aisle” so volunteers can come in and maintain the books in an aisle of their choosing.There are all kinds of events that can use your contribution of your professional expertise with in-kind sponsorship.

Making meaning from volunteering

Certainly in American culture, volunteering is interwoven. There is the famous speech by President Kennedy in which he exhorted, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Being willing to help your neighbor, the local sports clubs, at your place of worship or many other groups has been part of every generation in one form or another. Interestingly, a lot has been written about the Millenial generation in the US and how they have been acculturated to collaborate and participate in community service. How does this change volunteering? Have we in some way diluted the free offer of our time  and talent?

Beyond borders

While I noted how volunteerism is part of US culture, other countries have their own relationship with it. According to the World Volunteer Web, Wales has the highest level of volunteering in Europe. As we talk more about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and our own inter-connectedness, volunteerism may be on your radar.

There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer

Community groups could use your help. Political groups love supporters. Industry groups need help with staging events and chapter meetings. There are all kinds of groups and events where you can donate your time and talent.

And while there could be a great many reasons why volunteering could be good for you, there are also times when it is not your best choice.

Positives of Volunteering

There are loads of reasons why volunteering can be good for you. Here are some of them:

1. It feeds your passion. Sometimes our jobs don’t quite fulfill us so we can live out our avocation someplace else.

2. It can be a great way to smooth a career transition and develop new skills. Since most organizations are grateful for help, it can be a place where you can take chances and do things you’re interested in learning.

3. It can be useful when you want to connect with certain people (or certain types of people) You’ve probably heard that job searchers should be volunteering by using their area of expertise. But committee and board membership can be a source of leads to build your business or land that dream job.

4. It feels good and it’s good for your health. Helping people feels good and provides meaning to our lives. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, there are several health benefits.

Negatives of Volunteering

It sounds counter-intuitive that there could be something bad about volunteering. Unfortunately, it isn’t always a bed of roses. Here are some of the possible downsides:

1. Your time can get sucked up. Sure, there are a set of hours you want to devote to a certain organization. But sometimes there are special events and people who just want you to do “this one little thing.”

2. It can get expensive. For some boards, there is an expectation that you will participate in the gala, the golf tournament, the capital campaign and event sponsorship. But there may be smaller organizations that have such a small budget that you feel like helping out and it adds up.

3. It can be frustrating. Passion for a cause can allow for emotional over-involvement and the feeling that what you’re doing is quixotic or Sisyphean. Sometimes leadership is lacking, resources are stretched for an indefinite period of time or people are volunteering for their own reasons rather than the interest in the organizations.

So, is it the elevator up or down for your career?

The short answer is, “it depends.” At the end of the day, it’s down to doing your due diligence. With the rise of social entrepreneurship, the idea that all businesses must serve their customer and corporate-sanctioned involvement with charity groups, you may find yourself considering a volunteer position.

 What trends in volunteerism are you noticing?

How much value do we put on volunteering?

Does it matter if people are volunteering for non-altruistic reasons? Why or why not?

What effect does it have when a company has a strong relationship with particular non-profit organizations?

How will volunteering be defined in a world of sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship?