OK, I mentioned there are marketable skills you can develop while volunteering. Here’s a list of 10. I’m sure you can add more.
1. Learn to write, rehearse and deliver effective elevator speeches. If you can effectively communicate you causes’ mission, you’re well on your way to communicating your own value to potential employers.
2. Develop the art of small talk. Rather than standing there, staring off into space at a bake sale booth, ask the person on the other side of the table what’s their favorite dessert. Before you know it you’re chatting away. Do it frequently enough and you’ll be comfortable at it. Imagine how helpful that skill is during awkward silences during business meeting, training session breaks or interview lunches. You’ll be remembered for your ability to put people at ease.
3. Volunteer to lead a project or event. Words like orchestrated activities, recruited 25 committee members, scheduled four major fund-raising events annually, netting $XXX,XXX, coordinated vendor set-up, designated sub-committee and delegated duties, negotiated venue contracts come to mind. Hmmmmm. Sounds like marketable job skills to me.
4. Handle the PR for the event. In addition to learning to work with the media, you’ll pick up selling and publicity tips from the pros. Ask for help and you’ll be amazed at the input you’ll receive. Since job searching is all about researching the market and selling your skills to a target audience (potential employer), learning how to promote an event or other benefits is sure to help you figure out how to put your best foot forward in the job search process.
5. Offer to help garner sponsorship or silent auction donations. Try out different sales techniques. Watch for reactions. You want to be successful in fund-raising, but because it’s volunteer, you’ll relax and be more daring in your approach. See what works, outside your comfort zone, while still presenting a positive image for your organization and you’re well on your way to defining some mighty fine selling skills.
6. Spread the word and voila you’re sharpening marketing skills. If you’re working a booth, ask, “How you’d hear about us”. Do that enough times during the day and you’ve conducted an informal market study and grabbed a snapshot of various advertising media efficacy. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee managing a tight budget, you always want to keep an eye on the bottom line. Knowing what your advertising dollar is returning is good information
7. You’ll take focus off your job title and find your genuine voice. Knowing how to interest and engage someone about your cause is a great way to learn how to communicate without the safety net of a corporate title or a label. You’re not Joe Smith, CEO of XYZ Company. You’re Joe, dog lover, tearing up as you talk about your boyhood Beagle. The ability to gather support for your beliefs serves you well during a job search and in business dealings at all levels.
8. Work behind the scenes and there’s a whole ‘nother set of things you can learn and market. Improve writing or technical skills. Build booths. Keep transport vehicles in repair. Manage email marketing. Gather content and put together a newsletter. Design and host the Web site. Research details for specific projects. Locate and apply for grants. Organize fundraiser mailings. Well, you get the idea. Almost any organization needs this kind of support and most any company can use people with some of those skills.
9. Patience. Goodness will you learn patience when volunteering. The joy of volunteering and the bane of volunteering is the variety of people you’ll meet. Once you relax and realize you’re all pulling for a great cause you’ll enjoy the diversity. But it you’re a high-focus Type A, driven sort of person, paired with a Type ZZZZZZ, “whatever” personality, you’ll go crazy trying to force them into attacking the task at hand with a vengeance.
Get over it. Type ZZZZZZ’s don’t do anything with a vengeance. Relax. Slow down and you’ll be amazed at the different perspectives you’ll gain by adjusting your expectations and your pace to a more enjoyable level. Work hard, but have fun. And realize there’s more than one way to get there. Try a different path once in a while. You might learn something. Besides. You may have to manage someone like that someday. Might as well see what motivates them.
10. And last but not least you’ll learn tolerance. Whether professional or volunteer, you’re representing an entity larger than yourself. You’ll run into to people who disagree with you. You’re part of a larger group – at work and while volunteering. While inside you’d really like to tell them what you think, outside you learn to listen respectfully to opposing views. Learning to agree to disagree helps in making business decisions as well. Pick your battles. Better to keep the banter friendly and walk away from one dissenter than gather bad press with an argument – press being media or work reputation.
Every one of those 10 points will serve you at some time in your career. If you’re not directly in a sales and marketing department or PR, you’ll still need to know how to promote the company or yourself. Learn what you can, when you can. You’ll probably need it … eventually. In the meantime. Look at all the good you’re doing.