Over the past several years, I’ve found volunteering creeping into my life in more meaningful ways than ever before. I joined The Junior League of San Francisco over four years ago at the behest of a friend. Though I joined mostly to make new friends, I’ve found the community and learning opportunities more influential life than any paid position I’ve had in a long time. And I did achieve my original goal of making friends—the women I’ve met there have truly been amazing. Though I’m still an active member on the board of the JLSF, the experience there has inspired me to find more volunteer opportunities in my new home of Tahoe.
When I speak with many people about volunteering, I often hear that they simply don’t have time. While that’s a valid point in many of our lives, I think it’s a short-sighted one. In this world of constant change and the 100-year life, there is simply no way that a 9-5 is going to afford you all of the learning that you’ll need to stay current. At my last few jobs, there has been little to no investment in my career trajectory by managers and this isn’t rare. (I feel a bit bad about saying that because I think manager’s perception is often different, such as thinking that every 1:1 is professional development). Much of your learning will need to be on your own time and of your own volition. This short-on-time perspective also gives us permission to ignore what’s going on and hope that someone else with more time on their hands is fixing the _____________ (homeless, housing crisis, school funding, etc.) problem.
I’d love to urge you to consider what a few hours of your time can do not only for your community, but for you! Here are three reasons you should make time to volunteer (besides the obvious one of giving back to your community:
Pick up new skills – In the past year alone in The Junior League, I’ve run a fundraiser, worked to solicit donations, spearheaded the creation of a strategic plan, and served on a non-profit board. I’ve also learned soft skills, such as how to motivate a team while still achieving the desired goals. None of these opportunities would have been available in my day job because they would have been completely irrelevant to what they were paying me to do. But, in my “off hours” these experiences helped build my confidence to take on new projects that are completely outside of my wheelhouse. Really the possibilities are endless when you dive into volunteering.
Learn about your community – Each community is unique in its issues, traditions, and people. Volunteering gives you an insider’s perspective on what makes your community tick. Even if you’ve lived there all your life, a volunteer experience gives you access to the people directly working on an impact area and others who care about it. Volunteering with Keep Tahoe Blue, allowed me to better understand the impact they’ve made for 60 years and how our community might be vastly different if someone weren’t working directly on it.
Meet new people – For me, this has been the most rewarding. Learning new job skills is important, but making new friends and growing my network is better. In my experience, once beyond the first few years of working, work becomes more individualistic. People are busier than ever and many don’t really take the time to brainstorm, collaborate, or provide meaningful feedback. Good volunteer organizations know that these attributes are what make people return year after year, so they will make sure that the experience is social and educational. The fundraiser never would have made as much money without the team effort and it would have taken weeks to collect the necessary water quality data without the scores of volunteers that showed up for Snapshot Day.
Volunteering can fill in gaps not only in your career, but in your community knowledge and, in some cases can help you discover passions and networks that you never knew existed. Tell me about the skills you’ve learned through volunteering!