When describing volunteerism many people only think about it as doing something without pay. While this may be an aspect, it doesn’t fully describe what volunteering means. Volunteerism in a greater sense is about the connection with our human roots, a genuine desire to give back to the community and make a difference to others. Volunteering is willingly undertaking a service without being asked or forced and usually with no expectation of payment. It is renowned for skill development and is often intended to promote goodness or to improve the human quality of life. It is also about wanting to gain experience and skills to enhance one’s career prospects or start on a new career path, but in the process also impacting the people or communities you serve. Volunteering is an opportunity to get involved with something we feel passionate about, and often create new connections. It has positive benefits for the volunteer as well as for the person or community served.
Among the diverse characteristics of volunteering are these common elements: (1) an interest, desire, and willingness to do good, (2) contributing time, skills, and energy towards something that doesn’t benefit only oneself, friends, or family, (3) not expecting any reimbursement or payment in return for one’s efforts, and (4) choosing how, where, why, and when to get involved.
For jobseekers or professionals at any stage of their careers, volunteering can be a gateway to a dream job or a completely exciting new career path. When looking to find an ideal volunteer opportunity, one may wish to think about what their personal and professional talents are and the skills they would like to keep sharp by applying in new ways. You may also consider the skills or knowledge you would like to gain or learn from your volunteer experience. Are you interested in contributing skills related to your career, or would you prefer to do something entirely different? Also, consider the kind of people you want to work with, get to know, or learn from. You may also have roles, careers, or organization types that you’ve wanted to explore.
How and Where you can Volunteer
People can get involved in the community in different ways through diverse activities and roles, time commitment, project structures and issues/causes. To determine your ideal volunteering opportunity, consider the type of role you’d play, the amount of time commitment expected from you, the structure of the role and the cause you will be contributing to through the opportunity.
Activities and roles can be hands-on, skilled, direct service, advisory or online. For hands-on activities, almost anyone can show up and, with minimal training, get started. Skilled tasks depend on a volunteer’s particular skill set or experience, while direct service involves volunteering in the frontlines of an organization and likely having direct contact with the population served e.g. in delivering relief supplies. Advisory roles are more behind-the-scenes to help build an organization’s capacity to reach its mission by for instance providing feedback on strategic or fundraising plans. Online activities are about completing projects that are doable from anywhere in the world provided you have email or internet access like translations or blogging.
Time commitments required for different opportunities could be impromptu, one-time, episodic, ongoing or travel based. Impromptu opportunities are projects created and implemented on the spot, whereas one time projects take place only on a specific date and aren’t ongoing opportunities to get involved. Episodic opportunities require serving as an occasional volunteer on ongoing projects that are open to whoever can sign up on any given date/time. Ongoing volunteering demands commitment for a predetermined or agreed upon period like mentoring a young person or serving on a nonprofit organization’s board of directors. Travel volunteering involves committing days or weeks of your vacation to a volunteer project in your neighbourhood or travelling to another country to give back.
Volunteering project structures could vary from traditional to independent/entrepreneurial or service-learning. In traditional projects, one takes up roles under the guidance of and in support of the mission of a nonprofit or government organization while in an independent/entrepreneurial structure you create for yourself a volunteer opportunity that fits your interests and availability or addresses a particular cause. Service-learning on the other hand is volunteering as part of or in connection with education or learning like completing volunteer hours for graduation.
Issues or causes are matters of public concern that you are passionate about like human rights, environmental conservation, education, health and well-being, affordable housing, ending hunger, women’s empowerment or even arts and culture.
There are several places you can volunteer, depending on the four factors mentioned above. These may include volunteer organizations and movements, volunteer recruitment agencies, community organizations and projects or public and private health facilities, learning institutions, homes for children and elderly people or religious institutions. You can also join public campaigns like COVID-19 vaccination drives or voter education campaigns. Alternatively, you could start your organization to work on a specific issue.
Benefits of Volunteering
Volunteering can be far more than simply doing a good deed. It comes with personal and professional benefits. Whether you’re currently unemployed, completing your degree, or considering future career possibilities, volunteering can be an ideal way to develop new skills and competencies. It is also an opportunity to apply your existing skills in new ways and environments or to keep them sharp.
Being a volunteer can introduce you to new career paths that you could explore or help to expand your personal and professional networks by allowing you to cross paths, get on the radar of hiring professionals and in many cases, quickly bond with people from across your community, including many with whom you may otherwise not have had contact. Volunteering contributes to your personal growth by offering lifelong learning opportunities about various issues through hands-on experiences. It also helps you to socialize and make friends in a fun, meaningful way. Volunteering is one of the best ways to make an impact and make a difference in your community, regardless of your passion or profession. It helps you give back while assessing or actively pursuing your next role.
The United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 40/212 of 17th December 1985 established the International Volunteer Day, celebrated annually on 5th December, to not only celebrate volunteerism in all its facets but also pay special tribute to volunteers working to implement development activities all over the world. The day is a unique opportunity for volunteers to work with government agencies, nonprofit organizations, community groups and the private sector to unleash the power of volunteering in supporting personal, communal, national and global development.
Through volunteerism, people can impact development by engaging governments and communities by giving their time, energy, and skills to change the world for the better. For the individual, volunteering can be one of the best ways to gain on-the-job experience. Volunteering can be a great asset to one’s future even without investing in a long-term commitment. So, take the challenge today, spare some time and skills to volunteer. It may just be what makes the difference in your personal and professional life.
A version of this article was first published on page 51 of the Public Relations Society of Kenya‘s PR Digest Magazine Round-up Edition (Issue No 8, October – December 2021) under the title “Volunteering Spurs Career Growth”; https://issuu.com/prskenya/docs/pr_digest_-_round-up_edition.