Volunteering Can Boost Skills, Advance Careers

Volunteering Can Boost Skills, Advance Careers

Sure, volunteering shows the world that you're well-rounded and altruistic. But does giving to the community give anything back to your career?

"Yes" is the answer given by large majorities of workers responding to the Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey, fielded by Opinion Research in 2005. More than three-quarters of full- and part-time workers polled said that volunteering helped them make networking contacts, learn business skills or develop leadership abilities.

But when it comes to career advancement, not all volunteering opportunities are created equal. "We're finding more and more high school and college students are thinking carefully about how their volunteering assignments will appear on their resumes," says Robert Goodwin, president and CEO of the Points of Light Foundation in Washington, DC.

A Natural Networking Booster

Volunteer work is a great way to quickly make connections with like-minded folks working in a variety of occupations and industries. In the Deloitte survey, 87 percent of responding workers said that volunteering expands an individual's network of professional contacts.

People who volunteer to serve on a nonprofit board of directors often find rich opportunities to forge connections. "You're helping run programs and raising money," says James Shepard, national director of programs for Taproot Foundation, which matches professionals with pro bono assignments at nonprofits. "So the question is, who are you meeting, how does it extend your network?"

But you don't have to be on the board to reap professional connections through volunteer work. Ava Volandes used volunteering to reach her goal of transitioning from the corporate world to a paid position in the nonprofit sector. In her volunteer role, arranged through Taproot, she worked on a marketing project for The Point, a community arts organization in the Bronx.

"The Point needed a brand, so we designed a logo and helped them develop a clearer message," Volandes says. "I also helped The Point understand how the corporate world works." Volandes' ability to build bridges between for-profit and nonprofit organizations was key to winning her current paid position as senior director of corporate relations for the American Cancer Society in Manhattan.

Transfer Volunteering Skills to Day Jobs

What does volunteer work have to do with a corporate career when the two environments can seem so different? Volunteering gives people the opportunity to develop skills they can use at work, according to 78 percent of Deloitte survey respondents.

"Are they getting credit for being good citizens of the world?" says Shepard. "No, they're being hired for the skills and experience acquired on the job or in volunteering."

That's how it worked for Ron Sonenthal, now a tax partner in Deloitte's Chicago office. "Volunteering with the Jewish Council for Youth Services, Ron was able to enhance his own skills by helping the Council with budget development and other tasks," says Stephanie Emry, Deloitte's national community involvement manager.

"With a little thoughtfulness and planning, professionals can make sure specific skills are being developed through volunteering," Emry adds.

Community Leadership to Corporate Management

Perhaps the biggest potential boon for careerists who volunteer is the opportunity to lead. Some 93 percent of workers surveyed said that volunteering gives them the chance to enhance their leadership skills.

"People who are not managers are getting opportunities to run things," says Shepard. Additionally, in matching a volunteer professional with a nonprofit in need of leadership skills, "we may bump someone up from being a manager to be a manager of managers," he adds.

Is management experience in the volunteer realm recognized when it comes time to bid for a promotion or a new job? It varies by employer. "It's very easy to highlight the achievements of an employee volunteer when the company has a program to publicly recognize those achievements," Goodwin says.