Volunteering is a great way to pick up new skills and expand your professional network. However, there are thousands of worthy volunteer causes that could use your time and talents. How do you decide where to put your time and effort? Below are some tips to help you get the most out of your volunteer activities.
What do you really care about?
Not everyone is interested in the same things, so make sure that whatever you choose to do it is something you are personally passionate about, and are excited to see through completion. Obviously you should believe in the organization’s mission, but you should also be excited about the particular project you will be working on. Knowing the task is beneficial and important will help motivate you to do your absolute best, and persevere when you encounter difficulties.
Will you learn a new skill?
One reason to volunteer is to learn a new skill in a low-risk environment, where mistakes won’t jeopardize your livelihood. For example, if your current professional position does not require you to manage a budget, maybe you want to become treasurer of a local organization. This will give you some real hands-on experience with setting a budget, tracking income and expenses, and so on. Not only will you learn whether or not you can manage finances, you will learn whether or not you enjoy financial responsibility. When the time comes to do this in your paying job, you will have the experience to do it right.
Will you work with good people?
One of the best reasons to take on a new volunteer position is to get to know new people. Before you make a large commitment to an organization, spend some time with the other people involved, maybe assisting with a small or one-time event. Are the other volunteers fun to work with? Do you share a common vision for the organization? Does the professional staff (if any) treat the volunteers with respect?
Will you be appreciated?
With most volunteer work, your only payment is other’s appreciation of your job well done. Some organizations are better than others at thanking volunteers, and making sure they feel appreciated. Is the sense of accomplishment at the end of the project going to be sufficient reward for your hard work?
Can you get out?
Leaving gracefully can be the hardest part of a volunteer job – especially if you’re doing a great job, and no one wants to see you go. Picking a job with a fixed term limit is a good way to make sure you have a limited commitment. Even if you have a term limit, you want to think ahead, and have a successor ready to go. Let them take over when it’s time, and resist the temptation to tell them how to do things, or insist they do exactly what you would have done.
Volunteer positions can be extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally. By carefully selecting the organizations, projects and tasks that are going to benefit from your skills, you can ensure that you get as much, or more, than you give. ACS offers many opportunities to get involved as a volunteer. Two of the easiest places to help are in your Local Section and your Technical Division.
Get involved in the discussion
The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers)._—Brought to you by ACS Careers.