Sue Maitland - Life Transitions Coach

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The Do’s and Don’t of Volunteering

Volunteering is a wonderful way of feeling good about yourself and bringing positive energy into your life. It can also be a powerful way to expand your network and build strong personal and professional relationships. However, it also has the potential to be exhausting and frustrating and you may know someone who has had this experience.

Here’s my advice to help you have a great experience:

DO

  • Do decide how much time you can dedicate – be realistic when you consider all your other commitments and discuss it with anyone else who will be impacted (e.g. family, friends) and ask for their support.
  • Do think about how you would like to be of service. Ideally it will be in a role you’d enjoy and which allows you to use your best strengths, the ones you most love to use, or perhaps it allows you to acquire a new skill that you’d like to learn or put something you’ve learned about to practical use.
  • Do find the right organization – do your research and identify a few organizations that align with your values and support a cause you care about.
  • Do look at who is on the Board and the other volunteers you might be working alongside – would these be people you would enjoy getting to know better and will they be positive additions to your network?
  • Once you’ve found the organization you want to work for and the role that works for you, be prepared to talk about what you have to contribute. You may not be getting paid, but you still need to treat this like a job interview – why would they want you on their team?
  • Do leverage existing contacts. If you already know someone working at that organization, be sure to ask them to put in a positive word for you since many volunteer positions are filled by word-of-mouth.
  • Do talk to other volunteers to understand the dynamics of the organization. Ask who will be leading the volunteers, what is their leadership style, what is a realistic commitment of time required, what do others most enjoy about volunteering there and what one thing would they change if they could. With answers to these questions, you can assess if you’d be happy there.
  • Do ask about what training or orientation the organization provides for new volunteers.
  • Once you’ve begun to volunteer for an organization, with their permission, you can add your volunteer experience to your resume and/or Linkedin profile. Before you do this, think about the message you’re conveying to others based on where you’ve chosen to volunteer and the role you played.

DON’T

  • Never volunteer somewhere just because your friend volunteers there. Make sure that the commitment of time, the type of organization and role works for you before signing up.
  • Don’t let someone talk you into a role that isn’t a fit for you or which requires a larger commitment of time than you can comfortably make, stick to your commitment to yourself no matter how flattered you are by the invitation.
  • Don’t stay in a role or with and organization that isn’t working for you. If after a few months you’re not enjoying the experience, give the organization sufficient notice and find another organization to support that better aligns with your values and goals for your volunteering.
  • Don’t over-commit – set boundaries. Volunteering can be so rewarding that you’re tempted to take on more than you planned and this can lead to feelings of resentment and burn-out and this will have a negative impact on everyone in your life.
  • Don’t always be the one to jump in and take on extra work if some of the other volunteers aren’t really pulling their weight. If you’re a natural leader, you may end up doing the lions share of the work and others will be happy to let you. Be sure work is evenly distributed or you’ll always be seen as the person to pick up the slack and eventually you’ll begin to feel resentful.

With these tips I hope you’ll have a very enjoyable volunteer experience.

Volunteering is a great way to expand your network. If you’re interested in learning more about other ways to expand your network, consider joining me for my bi-monthly virtual workshop Networking for Success Live Events