How to volunteer your way to all the cornball, cliché, but genuinely wonderful things your self-help books always promise you
By Shawn Stone
“Volunteering?” you say. “That’s for high schoolers building their references, bored housewives, and criminals working off community service.”
Yes, that’s true. However, there’s a lot to be gained from volunteering besides staying out of jail and talking down to other moms. Not that those aren’t pretty great on their own...
It's not that I'm BETTER than you. I'm just...different.
Come with me on a brief, but magical quest of voluntary self-discovery.
First off: Why does anyone bother volunteering?
I’m not so naïve as to believe in pure altruism. I definitely lean more toward Kant’s perspective: sometimes we do good because it makes us look good, and other times we do good because it makes us feel good. We often receive a sense of fulfillment and duty through an innate need to support our peers.
It’s refreshing to know that we’re hardwired toward benevolence. Sure, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs requires that we take care of our base needs before we can get around to better things; but sure enough, we eventually will. When we do get around to being benevolent, we may as well use our time wisely and get the most out of it (for ourselves and others).
Six ways you can benefit from volunteering
1. It grows your personal brand
It’s easy to get distracted by the plethora of volunteering options out there, but that’s only if you don’t think about why you’re volunteering. You’re trying to help people, and the most valuable way to help people is to offer rare skills you’ve already mastered.
Sticking to what you know also gives you the opportunity to introduce new faces to the wealth of value you bring to the table. Once they’ve seen you in action, they might recommend you to a future client (or even hire you themselves).
Beyond showing off your talents, volunteering shows strength of character. A charitable nature earns trust, which is a key factor in hiring a stranger. Speaking of how hard it is to get work without knowing the right people…
2. It can be great for networking within your industry
Volunteer for something related to your own business. If you’re in a trade, there are probably non-profit organizations focused around that trade. For example: If you’re in advertising there may be a local “ad club” to help organize, or if you’re a doctor you could work with a local group offering free checkups for millennials who followed their dreams.
Just a few more semesters and I'll be a REAL clown!
Who knows who you’ll meet and where they’ll wind up, but if you’ve narrowed it down to people related to your profession you’ll increase the chance of growing your own career.
For example, I volunteer on the leadership team for CreativeMornings/RVA. The Richmond, Virginia chapter of a global non-profit that supports the creative community on a local level. I only just joined the team, but a few hours after I thought to write this post I was approached by someone who recognized me from our most recent event and went out of their way to introduce themselves. They asked about my life and career, and were excited to come to the next event. Without volunteering I would probably never have met this person, and certainly not in a way that makes it so easy to feel professionally connected.
3. Learn and grow new skills
Let’s say you’re interested in photography or graphic design, but have next to no experience. Nobody’s going to hire you as a photographer or graphic designer without a solid portfolio, so it'll be difficult to get that much-needed experience in a professional environment.
That’s where volunteering comes in. Mistakes are easily tolerated when you’re donating your efforts for a good cause, and you’ll have a team of people working with you to advise on, and improve, your work. There may even be opportunities to find mentors who can guide you to a professional skill level faster than expected.
So if you’re going to do spec work, it may as well be for a good cause.
4. Make new friends
Cheesy: yes. Important: also yes.
New friends mean new ideas and influences in your life. Without challenging ourselves and our preconceived notions of the world, life grows boring, predictable, and lacking in potential. I think that alone is justification enough for volunteering.
5. Break up your routine, vacuous, soulless existence
Let’s get real for a second. The average life in the modern world doesn’t leave a lot of room for variety. Most people hold down their job and blow through their free time doing the same crap they always do, be it watching Netflix or getting drunk with friends (or both at the same time). If you have kids, there’s also everything that goes with that.
Shut up, shut up, shut up, god damnit, shut up
Get the hell out of the house. Go do something different. Learn and grow and do something that will leave you feeling nice and fulfilled. Damn, is it that hard? Bring your stupid kids if you have to. It’s good for them or whatever, blah blah blah.
6. Do (or don’t do) work that you enjoy
You aren’t always in the position to choose the work you want over the work you have to do. Remember those kids we were talking about? Sometimes you can’t just throw your hands up and yell at your boss, or throw your boss up and yell at your hands; not so with volunteer work.
You can volunteer to do whatever type of work you want, for as much time as you feel like, and you can walk away whenever. You can say no and the world will keep turning. Your bills will still get paid. Cordon off a section of your week that you can use to whatever end you decide. Regain some control in your pathetic, cog-like, servile excuse for a life.
There are other benefits, but I'm not just going to volunteer that kind of information. $$
So that’s all I have for now. Feels kinda dirty. Like I’ve highlighted an aspect of something that should just be left in the dark. Mother Theresa was probably getting her jollies slapping sick people with medicine or whatever it is she did. Whatever, if you make the world a better place you deserve a little recognition. Go forth and be good(ish).
Tell me how volunteering is going for you. Need some advice or suggestions on where to look for volunteer opportunities? Happy to help. Shout out in the comments or on the forum.