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…