Even if you aren’t looking for your next opportunity, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that other communications professionals are eager to move up the ladder, sniff around your workplace, and snatch your job away.
How can you retain your relevance when you’re already working to capacity? What bright new ideas can you generate to let the boss know you’re an engaged and valuable commodity? Where can you gain some experience outside your immediate job description?
The answer to all three of these questions is simple: By volunteering to assist a charity or nonprofit of your choice, you can learn new skills, brainstorm new ideas, and see the new ways other pros successfully communicate. While it doesn’t pay a salary, a volunteer position lets you become a leader with very little down side.
Professional Organizations Need You
In my experience, leading professional organizations is rewarding on several levels. Not only does it train you to work collaboratively with others, it also forces you out of your comfort zone and into a place where your ideas are given serious consideration.
Once you can lead the group, you can correlate directly the effectiveness and ingenuity of your suggestions – and consider the reasons you are or are not effective.
Colleagues grow to respect your dedication to the common cause. For me, that meant recognition of my adherence to the Public Relations Society of America professional code of ethics and earning an accreditation in public relations that few pros attain.
Serving as president of IABC Orange County has allowed me to meet communications professionals – graphic artists, writers, public affairs directors and corporate marketing heads – from throughout North America. Sharing ideas for common concerns has taught me that there are usually a few solutions to every thorny issue as long as you remain open to fresh insights.
Does volunteering take up valuable free time? Yes, and unless you’re willing to give up a few “Seinfeld” reruns you won’t yield the rewards of helping others who need you.
Is volunteer leadership demanding? I won’t lie. Sometimes being a volunteer leader is as politically rife as one’s ‘real’ job. But wow, what a way to learn – you aren’t gambling your job when you fail to adopt a budget or if your speaker doesn’t show up.
Are the rewards of volunteering immediate and measurable? Not always. But as I’ve accumulated leadership roles in several professional organizations, I’ve developed a strong, broad network comprised of professionals in many areas of expertise. I feel good about reaching out to seek advice or assistance.
It’s for a Good Cause
Other volunteer opportunities allow you to use your expertise to assist nonprofits dedicated to your favorite causes, such as saving our oceans or adopting stray cats. No matter the affiliation, the same leadership skills, donations of time and talents, and monetary donations are necessary to keep the association strong and operational.
My daughter and I spent a year working for School on Wheels, an organization dedicated to tutoring homeless children. It wasn’t always easy to get our young charges to focus on their homework or read a book, but we knew every time we stepped through the classroom door that these kids needed us.
Many volunteer jobs can include stuffing envelopes or making calls for donations – deadly dull routine work. But remember the reason you are there – to learn new skills, meet new people and feel good about helping out an organization struggling to make a difference. If you go into the situation knowing your time, contacts, and experience will matter, volunteering will begin to pay off almost immediately.
Knowing that your hours of volunteer work assist others is strong motivation. It’s amazing to see your efforts pay off – whether that means teaching a homeless child or rescuing a hungry puppy – or even planning a professional event that offers new ways for professionals to do their jobs.