5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Volunteer Experience - Charity Savant

5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Volunteer Experience

If you’re trying to find work with a charity, you’ll likely have a million questions. And we’ve heard them all. What kinds of jobs exist at charities? What will I enjoy doing? Do I need nonprofit experience? Do my skills translate into the charitable sector? Do I even like working for charities?

These important questions are all part of your nonprofit job search. And volunteering can help you get the answers you need.

Most people, including us at Charity Savant, recommend volunteering as an important step in learning about the charitable sector, and deciding what kind of role you’d like to play in it. For some, the goal of volunteering is to gain nonprofit experience that will ultimately lead to a paid gig in the sector.

If your goal is to find a job in the charitable sector, you’ll want to make sure that your volunteer experience leads you down that path. But how?

Here are five ways to make sure your volunteer experience sets you up for nonprofit career success:

1. Choose the right position at the right organization

While volunteering should primarily benefit the charity you’re helping, you also want to make sure your experience meets your needs. If you have work experience and are looking for a job in the nonprofit sector, try to find a role that matches closely with your target nonprofit job. This will allow you to apply your existing skills in a nonprofit setting, and it will show potential nonprofit employers that your skills are transferable and translatable.

On the flip side, sometimes you have to just roll up your sleeves and dig in wherever your help is needed. Being available to help sort food donations, stuff envelopes, or staff an event will show that you’re committed and able to be flexible –  both qualities that are highly valued in the nonprofit sector.

2. Make a real commitment

There is nothing worse than a volunteer who seems enthusiastic about the job, but then becomes flakey when they actually have to start working. Even worse is the volunteer who ghosts on their responsibilities. Now, we know this is not you, but there have been times when a volunteer position isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you find yourself in this position, it’s important to  remember that charities don’t take on volunteers lightly, and work that volunteers do is crucial to the charity’s mission. If you’re no longer able to do (or no longer interested in doing) the work assigned to you, be up front. You may find that a deadline is negotiable, or a project has another component that’s more interesting to you. Or you may find that it’s time to respectfully part ways – hopefully with a positive employment reference in hand.

3. Take the right amount of intitiative

Taking initiative will set you apart from other volunteers. If you’re working on a project and have found a way to improve it, share your ideas with your supervisor and offer to take it on. But do be aware that while your idea might be great, it may not be feasible for the nonprofit you’re working with. With limited staff, taking on a new project or improving an existing one might create work for staffers whose plates are likely to already by overflowing.

4. Set goals and communicate them with your supervisor

Treat your volunteer position like the learning experience that it is. Set SMART goals that relate to your volunteer position. If you can, ask your supervisor for a meeting to talk about your goals and find out how they can support you in achieving them. Your supervisor may be able to assign you work specific to your goal, make introductions to build your network, or help you in some other way. They can also help hold you accountable to achieving those goals – especially if the organization you’re volunteering with has some kind of performance evaluation or feedback process.  

5. Use your volunteer experience as a networking opportunity

Your volunteer experience is not just a chance for you to do good work and get some nonprofit experience on your resume. It’s also the perfect opportunity to network. Most charities host some kind of recognition event for their volunteers – whether it’s a thank-you dinner or a game night. Go to these events to meet other volunteers and staff members who you may not have interacted with yet. You can also offer to take staff members out for coffee and informal information interviews so you can learn more about their work. People love answering questions about themselves – so take advantage!

Are you looking for a meaningful career in the nonprofit sector but don’t know where to start? Karma Careers is the best online course designed to help you transition into a  rewarding, values-based career in the charitable sector. Find out more today.

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