As a professional woman, you’ve probably dreamed of making an impact in the community, beyond your role as an industry leader or executive. “If I only I the time,” you might have told yourself, “I’d tackle world poverty. Or start a nonprofit foundation. Or work on a cure for cancer.”
Indeed, women are the nation’s most prevalent volunteers, with more than 28 percent giving their time, compared to 22 percent of men. Part of the reason may be that women intuitively understand that their responsibilities extend beyond payroll and profits. “Women are hard-wired to be engaged in their communities,” says Dr. Val Hannemann, a psychologist in Flagstaff, Ariz. “Volunteering connects women. They share, they compare, and they adopt new strategies to make a difference in the world.”And let’s not forget, most volunteers are recruited by volunteers and so women have a tendency to invite their female networks to engage in their projects.
Yet the reality is that many women who volunteer their time work part-time or not at all. In fact, women who are primarily care-givers or homemakers can become “professional volunteers.”On the other hand, time can be a major issue for professional women, who may have less flexibility in their schedules or priorities. If you’re like a lot of working women, you’re probably already juggling family, children, and your health —in addition to a demanding job. Yet if you haven’t carved out the time to volunteer, it may be time to reconsider. Yes, making the world a better place is important for its own sake. But it’s also a critical part of your professional development strategy. Here are six reasons why you should make the time:
You’ll build your experience base
Volunteer work can play an important role in helping you get the experience you want in your career. These opportunities provide great opportunities to learn new skills, interact with mentors, and build your portfolio. And, of course, you can list volunteer opportunities on your resume and LinkedIn profile, alongside your paid work.
You’ll expand your network
The old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” is true. Furthermore, it is really about who knows you. Volunteer opportunities allow you to build relationships outside your normal circle of friends and colleagues, helping you to broaden your network of folks who have had positive interactions with you and are inclined to think of you when opportunities arise.
You’ll broaden your perspective
By working with a different set of people and challenges, you’ll inevitably widen your perspective. Volunteering can pull you out of your comfort zone, forcing you to tackle new problems from different angles. It can also give you profound new perspectives that can shape both your approach to life and the way you show up on the job.
You’ll hone your leadership skills
As a volunteer, you can do things that an employee can’t. You can work outside the organization chart. You can seek out new opportunities for growth and involvement. And you can make connections between organizations. With the right volunteer opportunity, you’ll gain experience setting a vision, developing strategies, raising funds, motivating people, and reconciling conflicting perspectives—all essential leadership skills. And you’ll have the opportunity to practice those skills in a safe environment—and then apply them back at work to make yourself more visible and indispensable.
You’ll position yourself for promotion
A volunteer opportunity outside of work is a great way to demonstrate your readiness for the C-suite. By sitting on the board of a local nonprofit, managing a community-based initiative, or organizing a volunteer program for your own corporation, you’ll be required to tackle many of the same issues faced by top executives within your company. Moreover, taking on a leadership volunteer role “send(s) the signal that you aspire to leadership potential,” says leadership coach Muriel Maignan Wilkins. Indeed, taking on the right volunteer opportunity can earn you recognition as a leader—helping you to get the promotion you desire.
You’ll do good for others—and for yourself
Last, but not least, volunteering is vital to the health of our communities. You already bring so many skills to the table, and using them for the greater good makes the world a better place. At the same time, serving others gets you out of your own head and puts your own worries and problems in perspective. Research has shown that volunteering helps people feel more socially connected, wards off depression, and may even contribute to better physical health like lower blood pressure and improved memory. So, do yourself some good by doing good!
Jennifer Davis is Chief Marketing Officer of Leyard and Vice President, Marketing and Product Strategy for Planar Systems