Career Advancement, Featured

How to find a volunteer opportunity that will advance your career

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Photo credit: Elena Elisseeva, Shutterstock

Yesterday, we shared the story of an Idealist whose volunteer opportunity led to a job. But how do you find the perfect opportunity that will help you grow your career?

Think about what experience or knowledge you want to gain

Do you need more project management experience to move forward in your career? Or maybe learning a new software program would help? Whatever expertise you want to develop, there’s likely an organization or project already in progress that could help you do it. For example, nonprofits that use volunteers often need a hand coordinating their activities (community clean-ups, weekly volunteer nights, and staffing big fundraisers are common examples). Offer to help at an upcoming event and express your interest in a managerial level of responsibility; if it’s a good fit, you could find yourself gaining good experience in short order.

On any given day, you can find more than 13,000 volunteer opportunities on Idealist. Pick some keywords that describe your goals—”manage,” “fundraising,” “editor”—and try searching for opportunities that include them, then contact the orgs in need to get all the details.

Think about what experience or knowledge you could contribute

Another way to search for the right opportunity takes just the opposite tack: start with what you can give instead of what you want to get. Say you’re great with Dreamweaver but want to learn The Raiser’s Edge—do some searches that include “Dreamweaver” and see what pops up. Maybe you could offer to help an org update their website in exchange for some real-world training with their fundraising database. The possibilities are endless.

Determine your parameters

How much time can you devote to volunteering? For what duration? Are you available during the day, or just evenings and weekends? Knowing exactly what you’re able to commit to will make it easier to search for the right fit. Idealist’s volunteer opportunity search lets you refine results by a slew of criteria, including time commitment desired, area of organizational focus, languages spoken and—get this—”training provided.”

Use your network

What organizations are you already familiar with? Have you donated money somewhere? Are there local organizations that have a great reputation in your community? These can be good places to start, especially if you’re a first-time volunteer. Try polling family and friends for their thoughts, too. The short “Identify potential partner organizations” section in our Volunteer Resource Center has more ideas to help you identify good options.

Has volunteering helped you advance your career? Share your insights and tips below!

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