Many of us volunteer huge amounts of our time in support of community groups and charities. Volunteering is precious, rewarding and invaluable – but it can also be time consuming, exhausting and often demoralising. I work with not for profits in a variety of volunteer, Board member and consultancy models – this is what I have learnt about how to pick and choose the right volunteer opportunities.
1. Pick issues or organisations which align with your professional life
In my last post I talked about a “professional vision”. If your volunteer roles are congruent with what you do for a living you are more likely to be able to offer more value, achieve more and gain a greater sense of professional value. Many of us spread our time so widely that we lose focus and become dissatisfied with a bits and pieces approach. Find projects which support and accentuate each other and your professional life – when the pieces fit together your time is much better spent.
2. Don’t underestimate community work
So many women I know volunteer their valuable time through school and kindy committees, sports clubs and organising fundraisers and events for local organisations. It is always surprising that this contribution, the skills required and the level of achievement is not reflected on their CVs. Community work doesn’t have a hierarchy – if you are on the kindy committee or on the Board of a major not for profit – both are relevant to your CV and to your professional profile.
3. Choose one or two roles and do them well
We are often deluged with requests for help and take on multiple roles – or perhaps you just enjoy participating in a wide range of groups. It can be helpful to pause and to choose one or two organisations where you feel you have the most impact or the deepest personal connection and then do those to your best ability rather than spread yourself too thinly and end up drained and disillusioned.
4. Volunteer your time to learn and grow
Volunteering is a phenomenal way of building skills which will benefit you professionally. If you choose and create opportunities with this in mind, your volunteer time doubles up as professional development too. Be proactive about what you want to do. Approach Boards or management committees and offer your services for free or on a reduced basis if you feel you can bring value.
Above all, for any form of volunteering, be clear from the start about the amount of time you wish to give and on what basis. If you are ticking your professional, social and values boxes at the same time, there is nothing more rewarding.
Balveen is the Founder of Grace Street Consulting – advising on strategy, management, stakeholder engagement, legal, governance and strategic projects in the not-for- profit sector with a focus on advocacy for women.
She is on the Board of the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital Foundation, a member of the Queensland Government Strategic Group: Towards Gender Parity, Women on Boards, a Mentor on SME innovation with Mentor Walks and is Queensland Ambassador for Endometriosis Australia.
Balveen’s new course “Ready to Board” helps women to achieve Board positions.