Volunteering is a great way to pick up new skills and expand your professional network. But with thousands of worthy causes to choose from, how do you decide where to invest your time and energy? To get the most out of your volunteer activities, ask yourself the following questions:
WHAT ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT? When you do something that you feel passionate about, chances are that you’ll do it well. So when you choose an organization to volunteer with, make sure that you not only believe in the organization’s mission but also are excited about the particular project you’ll be working on. If you see that what you’re doing is important and beneficial to others, that will motivate you to do your best and to persevere even when you run into difficulties.
WILL YOU LEARN A NEW SKILL? Volunteering can give you an opportunity to learn a new skill in a low-risk environment, where mistakes won’t jeopardize your livelihood. For example, let’s say you want to gain some experience managing a budget. If this responsibility is not part of your professional position, you could volunteer to become treasurer for a local organization. This will give you some hands-on experience in setting a budget and in tracking income and expenses. You will not only learn whether you’re good at managing finances, but also you’ll learn whether you enjoy financial responsibility. When the time comes to do this task in your professional job, you will have the experience to do it right.
WILL YOU WORK WITH GOOD PEOPLE? Another reason to volunteer is to get to know new people. Before you make a large commitment to an organization, spend some time with the professional staff and volunteers involved in that organization, perhaps by assisting with a onetime event. Are the volunteers fun to work with? Do you share a common vision for the organization? Do the professional staff members treat the volunteers with respect?
WILL YOU BE APPRECIATED? With most volunteer work, your only direct payment is others’ appreciation for a job well done. Some organizations are better than others at thanking volunteers and making sure that they feel appreciated. Is the sense of accomplishment at the end of the project sufficient reward for your hard work?
CAN YOU LEAVE WHEN YOU NEED TO? Leaving gracefully can be the hardest part of volunteering—especially if you’re doing a great job and no one wants to see you go. Picking a volunteer position with a fixed term limit is a good way to make sure that your commitment will be finite. Even if you have a term limit, you might want to think ahead and have a successor picked out. Let that person take over when it’s time, and resist the temptation to dictate how to do things.
Volunteer positions can be extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally. By carefully selecting the organizations you want to be involved with and the specific projects that will benefit from your skills, you can increase the likelihood that you get as much as, or more than, you give.
The American Chemical Society offers many opportunities to get involved as a volunteer. Two of the easiest places to help are within your local section and your technical division.
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