Use the Value of Volunteering to Further Your Career
by Chris King

This past week I taught a continuing education class on "How to Work Full Time, Part Time - and Enjoy Every Minute" because that's what we do as free agents, independent professionals and freelancers - right? One section covered in the class was, "Where to Find Work." I had a man in the class ask me if I really considered volunteering to be of value. This coupled with the fact that the survey I have on this site indicates that finding work is one of the free agent's biggest challenges lead me to write about the incredible value of volunteering. I thought back, and can confirm that close to 90% of the work I do and have done in the past has come my way because of a volunteer connection.

Start by joining a group or organization in the field of your interest and then volunteer your talents. "All right, Chris," you are probably saying, "that takes time and effort." Yes, you are right. But I submit to you that you will get more business this way than ever doing the dreaded cold calling, direct mailing, and/or advertising. First of all, people like to do business with those they know and like. Secondly, if you have proved your credibility by doing what you commit to, you will stand out from all of the rest. I became a newspaper editor after writing as a volunteer for the paper for less than two years. In the past week I got two new website design jobs from groups that I have worked with as a volunteer. I will be presenting at a National Conference this summer for an organization that I have been active with for five years - and you and I know what kind of visibility will come from that. I could go on and on with examples of almost all of the work I do and where it came from. Volunteer work is never a waste of time, and it is also a great way to meet potential clients and/or those who will recommend you to potential clients.

If you are going to volunteer, make sure that you will be dependable and will always go "the extra mile."
Never, never say you will do something and then not follow through. And, then when you do follow through, make sure that what you are doing is topnotch. You will be amazed at how quickly the word will leak out about the job you do and your expertise. It is unfortunate that so many volunteers do not choose to do an exemplary job, but this fact is what makes your quality work stand out above the rest. Remember that the impression you make will follow you forever. When I was working as an employee for a local community development corporation (CDC), I became a volunteer member of the marketing committee of the larger, umbrella CDC. From the day I quit the first CDC until now, I have been doing a huge amount of work for the larger CDC - their monthly newsletter, a city-wide marketing publication, and the redesign and upkeep of their website. This has happened because of my dedication and dependability when I was a part of the marketing committee.

Know when to volunteer for "free" and when to start charging. Yes, there is a time and place for free volunteer work. But there is also a time and place for charging. For example, one of the groups to which I belong and where I have devoted many volunteer hours, now needs a website. I gave them a proposal in which I lowered my usual fees - making note, however, of the break they were getting - and even though my price was higher than those of other proposals submitted, I have been chosen to do the website. In the past I published a newsletter for another group. After producing it for a year, I said that I would be pleased to continue, but would want to be compensated for designing and creating the layout. They were delighted. Again, I gave them a fair price and we were all happy.

Realize that volunteering provides a wonderful learning opportunity.
When we volunteer to take on a specific job, we will gain experience and learn something new. Often we will be asked to perform a task that we haven't done before or take on a new leadership role. We may be asked to teach something - and there is no better way to learn than to teach. The skills we acquire are more valuable than any book-learning in a school or college, and can even be included on our resume. Also, many people don't realize that we can use people we've worked with in volunteer situations as references - just make sure you ask them up front if it will be OK.

When volunteering, we are not only networking, we are also making friends for life. When we are working together with others on a common project or goal and without the competition that so easily crops up in a business setting, we form wonderful friendships. We get to know others in a special way that also leads to future opportunities for all of us. We learn to trust and care for each other, besides gaining all of the other benefits that accompany volunteering.

So, what are you waiting for? Next time they ask for a volunteer, do it! You will thank me in the future.


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