Volunteer To Get Ahead

May 09, 2013 1 Min Read

If volunteering as an individual seems like a lonely task, why not volunteer as a group or as a company?

We often relegate volunteering to the side, thinking about it as some feel good activity we do every once in a while to make ourselves feel better. However what a lot of people don’t realise is that volunteering is a very effective way of accelerating the development of our leadership. Here are some reasons why volunteering is great for your development:

1. Develop your skills through practice, practice, practice

If you are someone who is hungry to learn, volunteering is a great way to pick up new skills and develop existing ones. At work, we have our roles that we invest time and effort into. We spend hours upon hours doing what we do, but ultimately, the amount of exposure we get is limited by the scope of our roles. By exposing ourselves to other tasks outside of work where we can grow new skills, we can really accelerate our personal development.

Here are the top skills you hone by getting involved in community work:

· Communication

· Leadership

· Teamwork

· Fundraising

· Problem solving

· Public speaking

Rather than just sitting down in a training session and learning how to communicate effectively, why not put it into practice in a real life community project. Community work is about action and getting results, and we learn much quicker when we do something rather than by listening. When we practically do something and learn by doing, studies show we learn seven times more effectively than when we’re just told how to do it.

It’s the ultimate win-win situation – organisations get the help they need, and we get access to a training ground.

2. Increase your career opportunities

According to a TimeBank survey with 200 of the largest companies in the United Kingdom, 73% of the companies said they would hire a candidate with volunteering experience over one without. A CV that is filled not only in the Work Experience section, but also in the Volunteering section, demonstrates extra capabilities like the ability to take initiative, adaptability to different environments and the capacity to relate to different groups of society.

There are benefits for employees who volunteer as well. The same survey showed that 94% of employees who volunteer, either got the job, or got a pay increase or received a promotion because of the new skills they learned by volunteering.

3. Gain confidence

That pay increase and promotion may also have something to do with a stronger sense of confidence. Research by Deakin University published in the Journal of Social Service Research shows that volunteering boosts optimism and perceived control, resulting in better well-being. A Cornell University says it boosts energy and gives volunteers a sense of mastery over their lives, especially later in midlife. With higher belief in self, and more experience via involvement in different volunteer opportunities, individuals are poised for greater personal growth.

4. Learn to lead authentically

Volunteering forces you to build credible leadership. We’re not usually given fancy titles when we volunteer. When tasked with playing a leadership role in a volunteering context, we have to earn the respect and trust of the other volunteers in the team. They have no obligation to follow you just because you may be manager of a corporation. Leadership in the community sphere takes creativity too, because community organisations are typically short on resources. So we have to be creative to make things happen.

Richard Pound, Chancellor of McGill University, wrote in a Forbes article that volunteering early in your careers is one of the most powerful ways for younger managers to understand and experience the type of leadership needed for the C-Suite. At the C-level, it is not just about paying people and dangling enough incentive, but it’s about persuasion and getting people to follow you.

It’s the movement from what John Maxwell terms Positional Leadership (getting people to follow you because of your position) to the Pinnacle (where people follow you because of what you stand for and who you are).

5. Build a community network

Volunteering is great for networking. Fellow volunteers come from all industries and all age groups, and engagement with the heads of non-profit organisations will also keep you in the loop of the needs of the community. In this relationship, both parties can win. Organisations get the help that they need, and your large and diverse connections may attract partnerships that would not otherwise happen. Customers like knowing when people and organisations are socially responsible, and this may be a key factor in setting you or your organisation apart from the rest.

For Sir Richard Branson, founder and chairman of Virgin Group, he sees his investment into community initiatives like Virguin Uniteas essential for the reputation he wants to build for the Virgin Group. In an interview, he remarked that “business leaders must remember that a healthy profit means that a community supports and appreciates the products and services a business offers, and also how that business is managed”. People also want to work for a company they believe in, and when people are happy, the workforce is productive.

Yet, all that being said, people generally still don’t volunteer for various reasons that include procrastination, or it just appearing too hard. Here are some ways to make volunteering easier:

1. Pick volunteer opportunities that suit your interests, skills and availability

Not everyone has a lot of free time, and not everyone has the same interests, but there are all sorts of needs out there. That’s why Leaderonomics builtwww.dogoodvolunteer.com to house organisations with different causes from all over Malaysia so that you can find opportunities that suit your interests and availabilities.

You’ll be amazed by the variety of opportunities available. We typically imagine volunteering to involve working with children in a home, but there are so many different needs in the community that fit all sorts of interests and exercise different skills. It could involve raising awareness of human trafficking with an organisation like Change Your World and Project Liber8, or it may be helping to create learning videos for EduNation, who are building a database of free education resources for Malaysian students. Pick something that fits your interests and develop the skill you want to work on. We have close to 200 community organisations on our portal now and all require help in different ways.

2. Engage in volunteering as a company

If volunteering as an individual seems like a lonely task, why not volunteer as a group or as a company? Increasingly, companies are recognising the value of mobilising their employees for community efforts for skill building, exposure and also for community impact. Companies like Sime Darby recognise that in getting its employees to be involved in planning and implementing community projects, it is accelerating their talent development. Employees have to exercise communication, leadership and project management skills, and creativity. Importantly, employees also develop initiative and social awareness.

Check if your company has an employment volunteer programme. The Star, for instance, encourages employees to volunteer by giving them an allowance of volunteer hours that can be claimed back as leave. If nothing is in place, why not rally together work colleagues to volunteer, or even take the lead in coordinating the team.

Volunteering is one of those hidden gems in life. It sits at the side, sometimes on the fringe of our thoughts, but when we realise how much potential it can unleash in us and through us, we’ll come to the realisation that we need to actively put more time and effort into volunteering. The beauty of it also is that anyone and everyone can do it, regardless of your skill, age and location, even despite of the differences in all your interests. It’s an avenue to improved leadership that is available. So take a look atdogoodvolunteer.com and you will find something that suits you.

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This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

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