As someone interested in social impact, you’re probably excited about any and all opportunities to work with an organization that serves a cause or community you care about. Well, whether you’d like to learn more about a nonprofit, dip your toes into a new mission area, or become familiar with the current staff at an organization, volunteering can also help you advance your social-impact career.
Curious about exploring opportunities on idealist.org? Here are four ways volunteering can help you build up your skill set, as well as advice on how to leverage your experience in job application materials.
How volunteering can help you advance your career
- You expand your personal and professional networks. People already working in your target field are great sources of information about job openings, affinity organizations, and people you should meet. And if you do a good job, your supervisor might serve as a reference when you’re applying to jobs.
- You learn new and transferable skills. Volunteering will help you develop new job skills, as well as apply current skills in new ways. For example, someone interested in marketing can help a smaller nonprofit spread the word about their mission through lead generation and social media. A college student accustomed to doing research for school assignments could volunteer to research an issue or demographic for a nonprofit.
- It’s an opportunity for career exploration. Volunteering allows you to try on different organizations, roles, issues, etc., without job-hopping. Of course, volunteering isn’t the same as being on staff, but it can expose you to the work of an organization in a deeper way than becoming a member, following it on social media, or even conducting an informational interview with an employee.
- You build a track record of work for a specific cause. Nonprofits value dedication to their issue area. By turning your values into action, you will demonstrate to your potential employer that you are committed to—and educated about—their issue of concern.
Including volunteer experience on your job applications
If a volunteer position relates to the roles you’re applying for, feel free to include it on your resume as “Relevant Experience;” just make sure you’re clear about the time commitment (and that it is a volunteer position, of course!). If the position is unrelated to your career trajectory—but you feel the experience is important to share—consider including it in another section on your resume for “Extracurricular Activities.”
Hiring managers will appreciate the opportunity to see your passions translated into action. If you’re writing a cover letter, share some of the points we listed in the section above as ways your volunteer experience has prepared you for the role at hand. For sector switchers who’d like to join a nonprofit, weaving volunteer experience into your application materials can help you make a meaningful connection to the sector.
Recognizing the impact of volunteers on our sector is an important part of working for a nonprofit. To gain first-hand experience, find a volunteer position that relates to your work or interests today!
by April Greene