Volunteering and why You Should Be Doing It

In our super-competitive world, waiting to get discovered can be a strategic blunder. Everyone's attention is riveted on issues so diverse that they cannot stop to focus on you or your needs. To increase your chances of getting discovered, you must get involved. And what a better way than volunteering! Indeed, as an American comedian, Woody Allen quipped, "Eighty percent of success is showing up." A good number of individuals who hold positions at reputable organizations assert that they got in simply by volunteering.

It is this observation accurate? Let us take an example of Michele Fabrizi, the immediate former President and CEO of the advertising agency Marc USA. Michele reveals that she simply volunteered with the Andy Warhol Museum and the Pittsburgh Opera years ago. One thing led to another, and she ended up chairing the boards of both organizations.

If you believe you will somehow get discovered without showing up, American author Nora Roberts has this express caution for you: “If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it. If you don't ask, the answer is always no. If you don't step forward, you're always in the same place.” In other words, you do not always get what you ask, but if you don't ask—you don't get it!

Here are five ways in which volunteering can change your fortunes and help you get what you want.

Volunteering accords you the chance to get discovered

We live in an over-communicated society. Every time you send out a resume, remember that between 500,000 and 800,000 young Kenyans enter the job market each year, according to the British Council. Now, this only adds to the backlog of unemployed graduates from previous years, many of whom are still busy sending out application letters looking for paid work. There is no doubt that this translates to such stiff competition that your chances of getting discovered through a simple CV are slim at best.

Admittedly, it is not as easy today to get into an organization as a volunteer as it used to be, because many other persons have discovered the benefits of volunteering. Even so, it is much easier to get into an organization if all you seek is to give of your time and energy without seeking monetary compensation. Once you are inside your target organization as a volunteer, now is your chance to show them what you can do for them. Even if, at first, you are posted to a department that is not well suited to your needs or unique skills, it is not so challenging to re-volunteer in your target department once you have your foot in the door.

Volunteering gives you the chance to gain on-the-job experience

If all you seek are the skills and expertise to run your own business or advance in a given career, you must do whatever it takes to learn the important lessons. Kenyan businessman and industrialist Chris Kirubi advises young, ambitious persons to go the extra mile to gain this knowledge. In life, he warns, no one can hope to achieve this experience from one source. Institutions of higher learning only provide you with the theoretical framework, which you must build upon as a life-long learner. To become well-rounded, Kirubi advises that you must go that extra mile on your own. One way to do this, he says, is through volunteering.

Volunteering offers you a chance to serve a worthy cause

Many not-for-profit organizations are only part-funded by governments or by other charities, and cannot afford to pay a salary to all their workers. Notwithstanding their lack of resources, these diverse organizations, including foundations, public charities, trade organizations, and social advocacy groups, are involved in worthy causes that include helping the disadvantaged in society, lobbying governments and social education.

For those who are jobless but who would profit psychologically from serving in the community by helping, educating, and getting involved socially, such organizations offer a unique chance to get vocationally involved and attain emotional fulfillment in the process. And, of course, while you are involved, you gain valuable lessons and increase your chances of getting discovered either in the current organization or in the next charity seeking personnel with your sort of experience and exposure.

Volunteering can be a great antidote to hopelessness and depression

If, unfortunately, you find yourself joblessness or retiring from active employment, one of the most significant risks for us humans is the loss of purpose and social support and, subsequently, depression. It can be a major blow to our psychological well-being when, after years of preparing for the job market, or after serving in active employment for decades, you suddenly find yourself a spectator rather than an active participant. There is no doubt that the participant-minded among us would crumble psychologically unless they have the chance to contribute somehow to society.

I had the chance, years ago, to encounter the inspiring case of a secondary school science teacher who, after being in employment for more than 35 years, was forced into retirement by virtue of his age. A few months upon leaving employment, he became aware that a neighboring public secondary school did not have a science teacher and was having difficulties getting the ministry to post a teacher to their school. Dusting his portfolio, he approached the lead priest at the local parish and asked him to introduce him to the school's Head Teacher.

"I demonstrated to the Head Teacher how I had led many schools to victory in science congresses," explained the teacher. "I showed him my references. I shared my credentials as a qualified science teacher. At that time, the school's Board could not employ me, but they asked if I would be willing to volunteer as a science teacher—and I jumped at the opportunity."

Within eight months, the volunteer teacher had led his new school to victory in a regional science fair. The school Board employed him two months later. He remained on the job for years.

Volunteering can promote longevity

Even for persons already in gainful employment and who may not be looking for paid work, volunteering can be immensely beneficial. America's Corporation for National and Community Service, in their report, The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A review of recent research, made the following striking revelation: "Comparisons of the health benefits of volunteering for different age groups have...shown that older volunteers are the most likely to receive greater benefits from volunteering, whether because they are more likely to face higher incidence of illness or because volunteering provides them with physical and social activity and a sense of purpose at a time when their social roles are changing."

The report noted that volunteers who devote a “considerable” amount of time to volunteer activities (about 100 hours per year) are most likely to exhibit positive health outcomes. A key finding of the report was that providing support had "a stronger relationship with longevity than receiving support from others".

How to start volunteering

Find out what you are passionate about

The first step to volunteering is to establish your interests as these relate to your personality. For example, if you are an activist, a good place to start looking would be in human rights organizations. If you are a fundraiser, you may want to contact organizations with strong needs for resource mobilization. If you are a teacher, how about contacting an under-served school near you? And if you like hands-on community involvement (for instance tending to the elderly or underprivileged children) the sky is the limit. The point here is this: Volunteer only in spheres that foster your interests.

Do not write an application; get an introduction first

When it comes to volunteer work, the best way to begin is by looking for someone who can introduce you to the decision-maker at that organization. Introductions beat applications hands-down because of the danger that your application may simply be relegated to the junk-mail. If, of course, you have no one to introduce you, it wouldn't hurt to send an application or even to cold-call. If you are afraid of trying, you may find inspiration in the words of American author and investor, Tim Fargo: "Who you are tomorrow begins with what you do today."

Take the initiative

If you are interested in testing the waters at a given organization, Michele Fabrizi advises, "You don't wait to be asked." She says you have to find what you are passionate about, "then you go and ask how can you volunteer." Once inside the organization, you now have the chance to determine if that organization is right for you, and they too have the chance to determine if you are right for them. If both of you are matched—voila! Volunteering has served you well.

Search for jobs