A recap of recent history: the U.S. economy experiences the worst downturn since World War II. Philanthropic donations, not to mention consumer activity, take a violent nosedive.
Yet 1.6 million more Americans than in the previous year served as volunteers (from the 2010 Volunteering in America report, compiled by the Corporation for National and Community Service). Plus, many of the additional volunteers were gainfully employed.
Well, we asked – and you answered. Volunteering isn’t just about donating spare time. It’s about doing right. It’s about paying it forward. And it’s about feeling good.
Volunteering opens your mind and influences your career.
Wesleyan student Rebecca Meyer, who volunteers for LIFT, reports, “Working at LIFT has given me a better perspective on what life is like for people who have nothing. I used to understand poverty in the abstract, but at LIFT I see the effects of poverty firsthand and have to help people achieve their goals with very limited resources," she explained.
Has it influenced her future? Absolutely. "I want to continue working directly in a community resolving problems instead of simply learning about those problems at a distance.”
In a rut? Volunteering can build confidence and skill.
After she was laid off from work as a Senior Corporate Trainer to Fortune 500 companies, Ceil Hansen sent out 3,000 resumes and attended countless career networking events. To no avail. So what did she do?
Rather than bemoan her career 180, she volunteered to organize an event with a non-profit called the L.A. Maritime Institute (LAMI). It was such a hit that LAMI asked Ceil to host regular events in the future for her Urban Adventurers of Los Angeles Meetup group.
“Even after having three tragedies in my life in February 2009, I set my mind to helping out and paying forward to the community," Ceil said.
Another volunteer, Lindsey Tramuta began working for Aina, a Paris-based NGO and non-profit, when she was only working part-time. “I’ve only been out of grad school for a year and struggled to find work initially so volunteering really improved my morale and made me feel that my skills really were of use,” she explains.
But even though she is now employed full-time, she continues to support Aina with work, from translations and editing to leveraging her own network connections to further their cause. That’s another upshot: if you believe in the work you’re doing, whether it becomes your career or not, you may have found a cause you can contribute to indefinitely – whether you are working elsewhere for pay, or not.
Volunteering your expertise can help you earn new clients.
Jamie Zolan, a technology consultant and the Owner of PinkGeek, volunteered to be a webmaster for a charity website – and helped the family of a terminally ill child raise $23,000 in funds.
Volunteering your skills can gain valuable exposure for your business or freelance work in the best possible way.
“Not only did I do a good thing, but I got exposure as a startup company and referrals to new clients,” Jamie explained.
Getting fired and volunteering is an ideal path to a career change.
Neva Geisler, Director of Volunteer Engagement for United Way of Treasure Valley, was a lifelong service provider (from Girl Scouts to 4-H and teen counseling). But she landed a job in advertising, in spite of her service experience, and kept it.
Not until she was fired (“mark[ing] the end of the year of the Great Private Sector Experiment,” as she puts it) did she go back to non-profit work – for good.
In addition to her professional role, Geisler volunteers on the side – as a Big Sister, on a charitable Board, for a student service leadership organization, and as a member of the United Way Worldwide Volunteer Engagement council.
“It is incredibly rewarding work. Every time the phone rings it’s someone who wants to help, and how many jobs are like that?” she asked.
“It’s like a constant string of enthusiastic customers.”
Inspired? Ready to pay it forward? Check out our articles about finding and benefiting from volunteer gigs.