Should you include “controversial” volunteer experiences on your resume?


You love volunteering. It allows you to give back to your community, get involved in a cause you’re passionate about, and strengthen key skills that could help you in your job. But what if the volunteer work you do is potentially controversial? In our LinkedIn Group for Job Seekers, a member asked the following question:

I am very, very, oh-so very passionate about women’s health and rights, and I show this through volunteering for two pro-choice organizations. I’m proud of my work with these organizations, but I also recognize that not everybody shares my beliefs.

Following traditional job seeker advice, all of my volunteering experiences (pro-choice, political, environmental, refugee assistance, etc.) are listed on my resume to show that I am dedicated, committed, and passionate.

However, I’m concerned that in the non-profit world where so many non-profits are religiously rooted my work with pro-choice organizations or politically affiliated organizations will be seen negatively. Has anybody experienced negative reactions to their volunteer work? Should I leave it on my resume?

When it comes to volunteer experiences around touchier subjects such as religion, politics, or sexual orientation, some career experts suggest leaving them off your resume. Others argue that if it is a cause that is important to you, would you want to work for an organization that would discriminate against you because of it?

What do you think?

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  1. I have also worked for and volunteered with pro-choice organizations and have always kept it on my resume without significant issue. If the orgs you volunteered with have good name recognition like Planned Parenthood, it would add even more value to your candidacy. If you are passionate about a controversial cause, you probably won’t be comfortable in a work environment that stifles you anyway. Also, in my experience, the staffs at non-profits (I do live in the Northeast, so keep that in mind) tend to lean left so experience working for progressive issues would enhance your chances of interview and hire, not hinder them. Good luck.

    • Amelia
    • February 12, 2013

    I am a bit confused about this as well. I work full-time at a religious institution but i also write grants for an LGBTQ organization. I am now applying for grad school at the university I work for, and while my boss does not know I work for an LGBTQ group, (she would completely understand and be 100% supportive- it’s more that I don’t want her to feel I’m putting more on my plate then I can handle) I am keeping it on my resume for grad school. Volunteering for that organization is near and dear to my heart. I’m doing it not only for the experience, but also because it’s a cause I believe in. I’ve always felt that the people who deserve you in their lives are the ones that put you there, and if they don’t give me a job or acceptance because of where I volunteer and for what I believe in, well then I don’t want to work for them anyway.

    • Peterson
    • February 12, 2013

    I actually think the oppsite of this poster. I think nonprofits are far more accommodating to liberals than conservative. Even in the nonprofits with religious ties, they seem to be tied to liberal faith institutions. I think the bias lies far greater against conservative causes than liberal.

    • Nic
    • February 12, 2013

    I’ve found it often depends on which organizations you’re looking to work with. Larger, more professional outfits like unions and larger PAC groups are generally more interested in recruiting actual professional talent than finding a spunky idealist. They want someone who can DO THE WORK, as opposed to someone who simply “cares deeply.”
    Emotional, political, ideological or philosophical investment in an issue goes a long way, but often its the ability to perform the duties required that employers are generally interested in. Sadly though, especially on the more local or state levels, with smaller organizations, the hiring processes are usually more superficial than they perhaps should be. Zeal and enthusiasm, combined often with aesthetic (in my experience for example, the suburban grad student faux revolutionary, or newsblog hipster) qualities can often override decision making. This applies as well to previous experience, as despite stellar performance in a given role or campaign, management for certain groups can be so ideologically and superficially exclusive that controversial causes or campaigns can sometimes sink a candidates chances at getting work.
    Typically however, with larger, more professional outfits, successful track records with difficult issue campaigns or organizations can demonstrate ability, which if the potential employer is worth any salt at all, should speak louder than ideological or idealistic loyalties.

    • Wajma Ahmady
    • February 12, 2013

    I find it ironic that an organization like Idealist would post this question. I go to idealist exactly because I want to work for organizations that don’t discriminate, and want to work with people who are also passionate about these types of causes. I think it’s also questionable that the the term “controversial” is also part of the question. I am rethinking using this site and think the question should be reworded.

      • Someone
      • February 12, 2013

      I find it interesting how you assume there is a site where no one discriminates. Discrimination is in the eye of the beholder – as someone below mentions, there is probably more discrimination in this field towards religious values – what would you say to that? Anyone who’s worked in non-profits long enough would know that non-profits RARELY disagree with one another completely, even if they share the same mandate. That is one of the reasons why they would not all merge into one huge organization to begin with; as well, we are all idealists with our own vision.

    1. Hi, Wajma. Thanks for your comment. We shared the question as it’s one that comes up for job seekers. As previous commenters have noted, the nonprofit sector is quite large with a variety of organizations working on different causes; because of this diversity we thought the insights from our community would be a great way to explore how to navigate this issue.

    • RHH
    • February 14, 2013

    Would you even want to work with an organization for which your beliefs would be a problem?

    • Cheryl
    • September 25, 2013

    While currently in the process of applying and waiting for a job, I’m sign waving and door knocking for local political candidates. I enjoy the election process, it gives me something to do, and I have it on my resume so employers will know that I’m not sitting on my caboose watching soap operas everyday.

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