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Altruism is at the core of volunteerism. Whether it be caring for a cause or for others, the opportunity to have broader impact is rewarding. You might be wondering how such a selfless act can be self-serving? But can volunteering—by definition a selfless act—be leveraged for further personal or professional development?

Here, we propose ways to marry your skills with volunteerism. Read on for some guidance on how to be of service to others while also serving your professional growth.

Dual service

Volunteering is a great way to not only give back, but also develop yourself professionally. It also provides the space for you to explore growth opportunities that are beyond your daily scope of work. So when considering professional development, you shouldn’t limit yourself to on-the-job opportunities. Volunteering can help you expand your horizons in—and beyond—your field.

Professional development can offer space for you test a skill, broaden your network, and hone in on your talents. Echoing this sentiment, in a recent Forbes article, the author noted four ways to leverage volunteering for professional development. They include:

  1. Upskilling with impact: This ranges from taking an online course to taking on a project that will offer you an opportunity to develop a new skill.
  2. Exercising hidden talents: Finding ways to hone in on hidden talents through volunteering can not only be of benefit to your passions but also to the group that is benefitting from your skills.
  3. Integrating "doing good" into your day job: Volunteering drives value for you as the employee, and also benefits the organization.
  4. Breaking network barriers: By opening yourself up to being of service to others, you’re bound to come across like-minded individuals. Peer volunteers and the organization’s community at-large can help broaden your worldview professionally and personally.

Mapping your skills

Similar to the preparation for your performance review, reflecting on your accomplishments and areas of growth provides a great foundation for a skills assessment. Whether they be personal or professional development goals, the skills you want to exercise should make you more well rounded.

If you’re thinking of where to start on a skills assessment, it may be useful to reflect on your transferrable skills and take advantage of free skills tests. Once you have a sense of the skills you want to hone in on, it might be useful to map out ways to connect these with volunteer projects.

Making it count

Once you have mapped out your skills, you can be more strategic about bridging your volunteer work with your development. Here are some things to think about while formulating your strategy:

  1. Finding the right fit. This isn’t as difficult as you might think—where volunteering is concerned, there’s something for everyone. You even have the choice between on-site and remote opportunities. Look for engagements that connect your passions and professional goals.
  2. Professional development game planning. Most volunteer engagements are term-based. They indicate when a project begins and offer context for what the role will entail. This can help your formulate a “game plan” for achieving the goals you set for yourself within a timeframe.
  3. Be prepared. Now that you have found an opportunity that aligns with your goals, take time to prepare for conveying your interests. Even if a volunteer engagement is unpaid, it should be treated with the same level of integrity as a paid opportunity. The hiring manager, wants to know that your passion aligns with the mission. Additionally, you can relay your growth points so the team is aware of how to support you and make your time there more meaningful.
  4. Carve out the time to commit to the project or engagement. As with other professional commitments, be diligent in your dedication to getting the work done
  5. Celebrate YOU. It is great that you are willing and determine to serve yourself with a great purpose in mind. For that, take some time to celebrate. You are on the right path to seeing your goals through.

Volunteering is a great way to marry your passions and professional development goals. It can also provide space for you to explore and stretch your skills outside the confinements of your workday—with personal and professional benefits alike.

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Imani Darden profile image

Imani Darden

Imani is a personal development coach, community development practitioner, and podcaster based in the Bronx, NY. She is passionate about uplifting women across generations and advocating for equitable access and opportunities for communities of color. You can learn more about her podcast, Forward 40 here

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