US News lists five networking tips. The one I want to focus on today is this:
Volunteer. This formalized way of giving back is a great way to demonstrate your abilities and trustworthiness to your network before you actually need their help or anything from them. "The better your personal contacts know your strengths and believe in you as a person as well as a professional, the more likely the people in your network and their connections will go out of their way to help you someday," Feldman reminds job seekers. "When you volunteer, you provide consistent opportunities for your network to see your skills at work."
There are so many benefits to volunteering that if you aren't involved in some organization in some way you're really losing out. Here are the top benefits to volunteering IMO:
- The first is obviously giving back to help others. Many readers here at FMF have commented through the years that 1) they can't afford to give money, but they can give time and 2) giving time is just as important as giving money. So getting involved addresses these issues as well allows you to "give back" to others.
- It's a great way to network. Remember, just doing a little bit more than what others do can make a HUGE impact in your lifetime earnings. And this is a great way to do a bit more. Through volunteering I have met some amazing people who also happen to have considerable wealth, own large businesses, and so on. These are the type of people you want to know if you're trying to grow your network and/or if you're in any type of business where meeting and knowing people is vital (like sales). And if things really work out, you might even get a great job out of the experience -- like I did.
- If you volunteer correctly, you can enhance your job skills and thus improve your employment options. For instance, let's say you're in marketing and you want to learn finance, but your company won't allow you the opportunity. You can find a non-profit that will work with you to develop and grow those skills -- if you help them out along the way. Or let's say you simply want to improve your public speaking skills, ability to run a meeting, organizational skills, and so on. Volunteering can give you these opportunities and thus make you a more valuable employee.
Currently I serve three different organizations in the following ways:
- Organization #1 -- I'm the president of the board and have been for the past five years. I've learned tons about fundraising, managing people, and running "special events" that have made me a better employee. And this is saying a lot since I was already a 15-year business executive at a fairly high level when I started this effort.
- Organization #2 -- I just started this one and serve on both the advisory board as well as the head of a marketing and fundraising committee. The benefits to me are yet to be determined, but I have already met some great people doing awesome things to help others, so I'm very optimistic about it. I will be running a group and organizing events, so the effort can't help but grow my skills.
- Organization #3 -- I serve on a committee that's developing a fundraising event to raise $80k (the money will be used to feed the homeless). I am yet to see how it will pan out since I'm just a member and the leadership is shaky (we've already postponed the effort from spring 2013 to spring 2014), but so far I've made some good connections with other business people and civic leaders. If this one falls by the wayside I won't be upset since I have the other two opportunities that I really enjoy.
The main question you probably have is, "How do I find an organization that has opportunities to serve that fit my desires?" I suggest you take the bull by the horns, call organizations you like, and see if they have volunteer options you're interested in. What's the worst that can happen -- they can only say "no", right? On the other hand, you might just find a terrific way to help others while helping yourself!