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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Power of Volunteering

I attended a great networking session at Lighthouse of Oakland County today. They started a new program offering job seekers a free monthly breakfast plus workshops led by individuals in the community.

Beth Grossman, an Executive Search Director from Angott Search Group, spoke about a variety of candidates she has worked with who have use their career transition time to volunteer at a charity or other non-profit organization.

Twelve hours after the presentation, here is what is most memorable for me:

1. Volunteering fills that gap in your resume. It demonstrates your desire to stay active and be productive. Plus it gives you something current to talk about in an interview.

2. Being a volunteer can help to lift your spirits. It's tough being unemployed. It's frustrating. And knowing you're not alone doesn't always help. By volunteering your time to help a cause that you are passionate about, you redirect your energy toward helping others. And that feels good.

3. If you're trying to change industries and don't have work experience in your desired area yet, you may be able to gain some experience in a volunteer capacity. That may be just enough to open doors for your next career.

4. When you volunteer and assist at events such as those put on by Lighthouse, you have the opportunity to mingle and interact with a variety of working professionals. Sometimes these individuals are board members or senior executives. And making a name for yourself in a volunteer capacity will give them a very favorable impression of you.

5. It's nice to get out of the house. Or the library. Or the Michigan Works office. There can be something quite calming about working in an office setting that you can't quite achieve at your home office. If you miss the interaction and hustle of office work, you may be able to find a temporary office space as a volunteer.

6. Volunteering gives you something to talk about to friends and family, instead of rehashing your job search. We know they all mean well, but hearing "you'll find something soon" and the gentle head nodding and acknowledgment of the hours you logged on Monster this week can get old really quick.

7. Volunteering gives you a chance to help give back. Maybe you're a whiz at Excel spreadsheets. Or perhaps you've worked as a marketing director. Or maybe you simply enjoyed supporting a team in an administrative role. We all know every company has had to cut back, and many companies are struggling because they can't afford to build back their teams... yet. Non-profits and charities have their own challenges. Many organizations like Lighthouse are finding themselves in the unique situation of finding that previous donors are now clients needing help. You've got the time and expertise, why not volunteer? You might not have the dollars to donate, but you have intellectual insight which can be equally valuable.

So now I've got you convinced to look for some volunteer work. Where do you start?

Pick a charity. Any charity. Preferably one where you have a personal connection or personal interest. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

  • You could consider the American Cancer Society because you lost a loved one to cancer. My mom lost her battle with cancer when she was 46. One of my personal goals is to someday volunteer for the American Cancer Society, hopefully in a speaking  role.
  • If you love kids, you could consider The Twitter hashtag is #fightchildhunger. This program serves Forgotten Harvest, Gleaners and Food Gatherers in SE Michigan. Two good friends of mine, Jennifer Marsik Friess and Susan Ferraro of Volare Public Relations have been assisting this program, and they've recruited me to help. 
  • Lighthouse of Oakland County has a great volunteer program in place, and many success stories as a result. They mentioned their goal of providing support and inspiration to move people from crisis to self-efficiency. This is in the form of housing, food, counseling, and much more.
  • Need something to sweeten the deal? Target is offering a "Scoop it Forward" promotion where you can earn some Ben Jerry's ice cream just for volunteering at a local charity. You just enter your hometown (or metro area) and follow the instructions to find volunteer opps.

Do you work for a charity and need volunteers? Reply to this post.

Are you a job seeker who needs experience to fill a gap on your resume? Reply to this post and tell us what type of volunteer work you are seeking. Or, better yet, contact the PR dept of your desired charity. 

We all can work together to help one another move forward. Don't you agree?


Anonymous said...

I'm thinking about going to Ghana to help. I think the trip be so rewarding.

Brenda Meller said...

Glad to hear. Although I'm sure there are many opportunities for you to volunteer closer to home, too.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brenda! We at Lighthouse were thrilled by the response and reaction. It is events like this that remind us what a great community we live in - a community where we help each other and look out for each other. I personally can't think of a place I'd rather live! We loved your presentation and are excited about the response.
Many thanks,
Laurie Horvath
Vice Chair
Lighthouse of Oakland County