by Heather Rocker, hrocker@mywit.org, 678.778.5152

July 21, 2011

Strategic Volunteering allows you to align opportunities for volunteer service with your desired leadership and skill development plans. With a strategic approach to community service you can utilitize a current skill set, develop new skills, and bring recognition and metrics to your volunteer experiences. Through Strategic Volunteering, you are growing your your skills through a non-traditional professional development avenue.

Volunteering as Networking

With the downturn of the economy, many people approached me (in both my professional and volunteer leadership capacities) to help them find things: mentors, connections, and jobs. While I don’t the bandwidth to personally help with all of these requests, I do have one consistent piece of advice – volunteer! Why? Because your volunteer networks can become your job and mentor seeking networks. When looking to transition into the nonprofit sector as a profession, I had to evaluate who could serve as a reference for me regarding these specific skill sets – and it almost always came back to my fellow volunteers, past and present.

Want to see if a volunteer network could benefit you? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Outside of work, where am I involved?
  • What is the list of people that I could call today for a favor or introduction?
  • Could the leaders of organizations for which I volunteer serve as a reference for me?
  • Have I tracked the impacts of my volunteer service/projects?

By looking at the individuals in your volunteer network, you greatly open up your networking possibilities. It’s never too late to start – find a volunteer opportunity that fits (strategically) with your goals and utilize that opportunity to expand your possibilities.

Three-Step Volunteering Action Plan

  • Quantify the impact of your volunteer service. Don’t limit the value of your volunteer service to a line-item on your bio. Take the time and energy to really think about your impact on the organization and/or your community. Work with the organization’s leadership to set metrics for your volunteer projects and track their progress.
    Here’s an example:
    Served as volunteer training director for XYZ nonprofit. Collaborated with board of directors to compile training materials and create a “career path” for current and future organization leaders. The creation of the new training system resulted in a 25% increase in knowledge retention and reduction in volunteer leader turnover of 30%.
  • Set yourself apart from the crowd – combine your professional and volunteer skills to create your Volunteer Resume. This addresses the complication of approaching an organization with your offer to volunteer and their inability to know the best place to utilize your skill sets. Be sure to include your project impacts! And if you want to be a high-level volunteer leader or board member, it’s a bonus to include references. As a volunteer coordinator, if someone came to me with his/her volunteer resume including a statement of which skills they want to further develop and/or acquire, I would do a happy dance and then immediately work to place them on a great project, program, or event team.
  • Use your performance reviews and goals to help set your volunteer strategy. That’s right – haul out that last review from your manager and take a look at the areas where you either need improvement or could gain a competitive advantage in your workplace. When you line up your professional goals with your volunteer goals – you start to get some serious traction. And this is where you can get buy-in from your company if you need to take time from work in order to serve in one or more volunteer role. Remember, Strategic Volunteering = FREE professional development training!

Volunteer Impacts on Your LinkedIn Profile

Looking for an effective way to enhance your brand on LinkedIn? Post your volunteer “jobs”! That’s right – add your volunteer roles (especially those involving leadership) to your profile. This helps you in a variety of ways:

  • expands your visibility by including impacts you’re having both in and outside of the workplace
  • gives you the opportunity to gather recommendations for your work outside of your professional role
  • makes it evident that you have a commitment to community/nonprofit support
  • highlights your initiative and accomplishments – nice complement to your professional successes

You can include both current and past roles giving yourself the opportunity to create a very robust online profile – and enhancing your personal brand!

Linking Your Performance Review to Your Volunteer Strategy

Almost everyone will experience some kind of performance review at work. When presented with the “opportunities for improvement” – what do you do? Obviously, one option is to request formal training, but budgets do not always cover your total need for professional development. This is an ideal opportunity to discuss potential strategic volunteering roles with your manager.

Map the skills you wish to hone to volunteer opportunities in your community. Bring back a plan including your role, how it enhances your development plan, and what (if any) time may need to be invested during work hours. Don’t forget to include the added bonus of expanding your network!

Now you’ve got a plan to gain the skills you need to advance in your career – and you look like a superstar for taking ownership of your professional development.

About the Author

Heather Rocker serves as the first-ever executive director for Women in Technology and the WIT Foundation. She currently authors a blog about Strategic Volunteering and speaks to nonprofit and corporate groups about incorporating this concept into their leadership development plans. (http://strategicvolunteering.blogspot.com) Heather presented a workshop on this topic at the 2011 National Conference on Volunteering & Service in New Orleans.

If your organization is interested in learning more about strategic volunteering, you may contact Heather to request a presentation.