Can volunteering build a career path?

publication date: Sep 18, 2013
author/source: Laura Champion & JJ Sandler

We are firm believers that volunteerism is a value that should be implemented early on in life. Not only is volunteering a great way to integrate yourself into your community, but it is also a great way to develop skills and to meet an organization’s leadership. It is a no-pressure situation – even if you intend to discuss potential career opportunities with leaders when accepting your volunteer role, volunteerism removes the stress that exists during the interview process.

A lot of us will not secure employment as fundraisers immediately after completing our internships. This is a reality that we are not ready to face. Some of us will have circumstances that force us to go back to minimum-wage service jobs. Accept it, move on and take this opportunity to volunteer!

We recommend finding three to five organizations that you would be interested in working for and applying for volunteer roles to build specific skill sets. If you would like to volunteer to build your Raiser’s Edge skills, for example, find an organization that will help you do that. If you would like to gain committee experience, make some calls. And be aggressive in your approach because, unfortunately, charities are not going to come looking for you.

We keep hearing that all you have to do is get your foot in the door because organizations like hiring from within. It is important to remember that “within” includes volunteers. Just make sure that when you begin volunteering, the organization knows what you are looking for and what you expect to accomplish in a volunteer role. Organizations that take care of their office volunteers generally provide them with perks like professional development opportunities. Take advantage of free training wherever you can get it.

Time, grunt work matter

It is going to be a long trudge through the bog of employment. Sometimes you will get lucky and be in the right place at the right time. We hope you already are. In that case, thank your stars because there are at least four or five people who would be a great candidate for your position. You just happened to be the “right” person right now.

If you are not, remember that through volunteering you will have an advantage over everyone that applies for the position because the organization is already familiar with your work style, attitude, and level of dedication. Stay positive and get out there; you never know what could come your way through volunteering.

It is also important for those of us labeled Gen Y to remember that if we want to be the boss eventually, we need to be willing to put in the time and do the grunt work. Then we need to never forget how that feels so that we do not take the frustration that built from the bottom and turn it into malevolence at the top. Frankly, it seems that some senior members of our profession have begun to forget their entry-level frustrations.

To management: let us dig in!

We are an eager generation, one that wants to help and change the world in whatever positive way that we can. Mentor this excitement and allow for the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed among us to carry some of the workload. We volunteer because we care and because the rules of the game have become clear – it is not what you know it is who you know. We want to be part of the club and we are willing to prove it by working from the ground up. So please, look at volunteer experience as experience and hire us.

Laura Champion (@charitablelaura) is a recent graduate of Humber College’s Fundraising and Volunteer Management program. Before enrolling in the program she was a library technician for a couple of years after graduating from the University of Windsor with a B.A. in philosophy. Having completed her internship at Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada, she has just joined West Park Healthcare Centre as Development Specialist on the I CAN campaign. Her goals in life include obtaining her CFRE, becoming a published author and being successful enough on Jeopardy to be brought back for the Tournament of Champions.

JJ Sandler (@j_s_believe) has a bachelor’s degree in international development from the University of Calgary and has completed the Humber College Fundraising and Volunteer Management program. During his internship with Camp Oochigeas, he focused on developing the infrastructure for a major gifts program. JJ is intent on completing his CFRE designation within five years, after which he hopes to earn his CGA credentials. He aspires to one day work for one of the Canadian NHL foundations.

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