Thursday, January 16, 2014

Strategic Volunteering & The Savvy Professional

Many thanks to Systems Evolution, Inc. (SEI) for asking me to contribute the following article for their "Community News and Insights" publication.  I also look forward to presenting a Strategic Volunteering "Action Plan" workshop to the SEI-Atlanta team next month as part of  a strategy to help their consultants further engage in the community.

Strategic Volunteering and Why It Matters to Savvy Professionals

Author: Heather Rocker (LinkedIn profile:
Strategic Volunteering allows you to align opportunities for volunteer service with your desired leadership and skill development plans.  With a strategic approach to community service you can utilize a current skill set, develop new areas of expertise, and bring recognition and metrics to your volunteer experiences.  Through Strategic Volunteering, you are growing and sharing through a non-traditional professional development avenue.  Quite simply, it’s an innovative approach of lending a hand to get ahead.
A Strategic Volunteering role is one that incorporates your development goals, allows you to demonstrate value and impact over a period of time, and affords the chance to continually expand your network and skillsets.  Part of your volunteer role selection process should include gaining clarity around the organization’s mission, volunteer placement process, terms of service, time commitment, giving requirements, expectations of the specific role, and support of your employer.  Before you make a final decision about your next volunteer role, consider the following:

  • What are my desired areas of personal and professional growth?
  • What competencies do I already have under my belt?
  • What do I want to learn from this “on the job” volunteer experience?
  • Will this volunteer role motivate me?
  • Am I passionate about the organization’s mission?
  • What training is offered as part of the volunteer service?
  • Does the opportunity align with the level of leadership I want to attain in my career and/or community?

Strategic Volunteering as Networking

Expanding your network through volunteering can be more powerful than simply meeting new people.  Meaningful Strategic Volunteering engagements provide the opportunity to effectively display your skills, work ethic, and ability to drive results amongst a circle of professionals you would otherwise not likely encounter.  It can also build your business.  Strategic Volunteers credit volunteer-related contacts as some of their strongest professional connections.  Their list of contacts and advocates would simply be much smaller if they relied on only work-related activities.  By considering the individuals you’ve met through volunteering, you greatly expand your networking possibilities. Could an expanded network through volunteerism benefit you?  Find out by answering the questions below.

  1. Outside of work, where am I involved?
  2. What is the list of people that I could call today for a favor or introduction?
  3. Could the leaders of organizations for which I volunteer serve as references for me?

By looking at the individuals in your volunteer world, you greatly open up your networking potential. It’s never too late to start – find a volunteer opportunity that fits (strategically) with your goals and utilize that opportunity to expand your possibilities.
Volunteer Impacts & Your LinkedIn Profile
While there is now an area on LinkedIn to list your volunteer roles on your profile (Volunteer Experience and Causes), it is more beneficial to list your major volunteer placements (and related impacts) in the Experience section.  Volunteer roles that highlight you in a leadership capacity should definitely be included.  This helps you in a variety of ways:

  1. Expands your visibility by including impacts you’re having both in and outside of the workplace
  2. Gives you the opportunity to gather recommendations for your work outside of your professional role
  3. Makes it evident that you have a commitment to community/nonprofit support
  4. Highlights your initiative and accomplishments (provides a nice complement to your professional successes)

You can include both current and past roles giving yourself the opportunity to create a very robust online profile, thereby enhancing your personal brand.
Connecting Your Performance Review to Your Volunteer StrategyAs we dive into the New Year, many of us have recently experienced some version of a performance review at work. When presented with the “opportunities for improvement” – what do you do? Obviously, one option is to request formal training, but budgets do not always cover your total need for professional development. This is an ideal opportunity to discuss potential Strategic Volunteering roles with your manager.
Map the skills you wish to hone with volunteer opportunities in your community. Bring back a plan including details about the volunteer role, how it enhances your development plan, and what (if any) time may need to be invested during work hours. Don’t forget to include the added bonus of expanding your network!  Now you’ve got a plan to gain the skills you need to advance in your career, and you look like a superstar for taking ownership of your professional development.

Additional Resources

Ready to start volunteering?  Here are a few things to keep in mind while representing your personal and professional brand…

Monday, November 19, 2012

Making the Case: Asking Your Manager for Time to Volunteer

Even if you've done all of your homework to find the right volunteer role to advance your professional journey, you may be hesitant about asking your manager for the time to take on the role.  Volunteer committees are meeting during the workday with increasing frequency whether in person or via conference call.  Your gut instinct may tell you to turn down any volunteer opportunity that requires time during the workday, but hold that thought!

When I presented to YNPN Atlanta last week, the question about how to "get time off to volunteer" was a pressing one.  Making the case to your manager to engage in a Strategic Volunteer role is all about the ROI (return on investment) of your time allocated to the opportunity.  I find the following steps to be extremely useful in making the case:
  1. Do your homework.  Know about the volunteer role including expectations, time commitment, and schedule.
  2. Map the skills you can develop in the role to your professional role.  Utilize the Strategic Volunteering Action Plan to frame this work.  Remember to look at past performance reviews to closely tie the volunteer opportunity to development your company/manager will find valuable.
  3. Frame the conversation.  "I'd like to speak with you about a free professional development opportunity that will expand my professional network and skills while helping our company have a positive presence in the community.  May I have 15 minutes of your time to discuss?"
  4. Get manager feedback on your plan.  Be specific about the job description of the volunteer role, time commitment, and potential end result from a development perspective.  Even better to set up goals that you can measure against at the end of your volunteer engagement.  You'll want these metrics to develop your impact statements.  It's even more valuable if you work together to tie the opportunity into your official performance review/development plan
  5. Report back to your manager (and team) about the volunteer experience and its value toward your professional development.    
Then remember to use your best behavior as you're volunteering in your new role to keep your personal and professional brand intact. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lend a Hand to Get Ahead

Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine Volume 88, Number 3 (August 2012)

I'm thrilled that my alma mater asked me to submit an article for the latest edition of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine.  The following is my advice to professionals regarding volunteering as professional development.  What do you think?

In my work as the CEO of Girls Incorporated of Greater Atlanta, people often approach me requesting help finding mentors, making connections and seeking new job opportunities. I have one consistent piece of advice for them: volunteer.

Why? It’s no secret that the benefits of serving your community extend far beyond helping people and places in need. Volunteering encourages you to hone existing skill sets, develop new ones and foster connections that strengthen and nourish your community—and those skills and connections may prove to be valuable assets in your professional life, too.

If you are currently employed, it’s important to make the most of the time and energy you spend volunteering. Are there areas of your professional life you’re looking to improve or additional skills that would benefit your work? (Your workplace performance reviews may serve as a roadmap here.) Seek out volunteer opportunities tailored to your interests and strengths, especially causes or organizations with training programs—think of it as free professional development.

You also want to consider where your existing skills may be of help. If you work in IT, for example, consider lending your know-how to a local nonprofit looking to improve their technology plan.
For those looking to make a career change, volunteering can give you a virtually risk-free chance to explore your interests in other fields—kind of like a grown-up internship. Years ago I thought I wanted to be an event planner, so I jumped at the chance to chair a major fundraising gala for a local nonprofit. But after managing that and multiple other events, I realized that event planning was not for me. Thank goodness I had the chance to “try it before you buy it” through volunteering. But in other cases, volunteering may confirm your desire to make a big career change.

If you are currently unemployed, there may be no better time to volunteer. Take advantage of this opportunity to develop skill sets relevant to your career goals, keep existing skills fresh, make connections with other volunteers that might be in your field and potentially set your resume apart in the competitive job market.

That’s another thing: Along with updating your professional resume, be sure to post your significant volunteer roles on your LinkedIn profile. Not only does it build your positive online brand, but it also adds valuable depth to your overall career snapshot. And take the extra step of asking your volunteer managers and peers to recommend your work. As a nonprofit leader, this is something I enjoy giving back to my volunteers.

And remember, even if you’re not in the office, it’s crucial to behave professionally. On more than one occasion I’ve seen people do and say things in a volunteer capacity that I cannot imagine they would dare replicate in a business setting. Your volunteer roles and contributions are an extension of your personal brand, and a great volunteer contributor can become a sought-after resource by fellow professionals.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What To Do When "Life Happens"

In 2010, I had to step down from one of my favorite volunteer roles because of a major addition to my schedule known then as "Peanut" - life happens! (Photo courtesy of CPCammack Photography)
Many of us have been there.  Armed with the best of intentions, you take on a volunteer role in order to make a positive impact on your community.  You find a way to integrate this new use of your time and talent with the other demands weighing on you.  Then one day, something happens.  Maybe it's a change in your personal life, a new role at work, or the planets aligning against your favor.  In short, it's what I call "life happens"...because it does.

Whatever the cause, you find your mind reeling and stress mounting trying to figure out how you are going to "do it all" - something's got to give.  Naturally, you evaluate what can change in order to alleviate the situation, and the fact that your volunteer role - is well, voluntary - usually makes it the first on the chopping block.  

Here's what I tell my volunteers: I know that life happens.  When it does, just be honest about what commitments you can keep - and communicate those changes.  
(evaluate and communicate)

I often see one of two things occur "when life happens" -- 

1.  A volunteer suddenly stops replying to emails and phone calls and doesn't attend meetings.  This is usually an attempt to leave the volunteer role without having to feel like a quitter.  One may even think this is a graceful exit.  It's not!  Instead, fellow volunteers and staff spend countless hours trying to channel their detective skills; all the while, wondering if something horrible has happened.  Again, this is not a graceful exit.  In fact, it eventually just goes from annoying to downright rude.  *However, if you're looking to be sure no one ever wants volunteer with you again, this is an excellent strategy! 

2.  A volunteer shows up at a meeting and ends up in the fetal position in the corner before it's over.  Why?!  I call this one "martyr syndrome" - when the individual knows the volunteer role is too much given their circumstances, but doesn't want to "let anyone down."  The volunteer is trying to keep a commitment that is no longer realistic.  And quite frankly, this person is no longer effective or useful to the team.  

Here's my advice to stressed-out volunteers everywhere: Resist the urge to go radio silent or to become a shape shifter trying to make it all work!  Take a breath, and communicate your situation to the committee leaders and/or volunteer manager.  This doesn't make you a "quitter", but it does make you someone who has wisely evaluated your capacity to serve.  

In fact, sometimes taking a personal time-out is best for everyone involved.  Your team will appreciate the opportunity to bring in someone new quickly to keep the project on task.  Smart volunteer managers will encourage you to do what's best for your situation, thank you for your honesty and candor, and welcome you back with open arms when the timing is right.   

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Picking Your Brain

Do you currently volunteer or have you in the past?  If so, please take 10 minutes to contribute your input to my latest research project.  Thank you!!

I am awesome - sign me up! (take the quick survey)