I love helping people, this is something I’m very aware of about myself. I’ve worked for free for many years and just wanted to give my 2 cents in of why working for “free” or “volunteering” has so much value if you know how to use it to your advantage. I get that all of you may not agree, but just hear me out.
Doing it cause you want to vs. doing it because you have to…what sounds better to you?
Volunteer rate has been declining according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Simply put, America just doesn’t have enough volunteers now days. While many still do, many “big players” would opt for the monetary contribution as their way to put in, but what they don’t understand is the efforts of the physical (behind the scenes) work of the “on-the-line” volunteers. They (volunteers) are what makes an organization succeed.
A few things I’ve learned from working for “free”
Self-Awareness – when you have a better understanding of yourself, you’ll be able to experience anything you put your mind to. You’ll be empowered to make change and to build your strength while working on improvement.
Find yourself and when you learn what you love to do, it comes effortlessly. This also goes with my saying when people ask me “who are you?” Well I’m not really sure, but I can tell you who I am “not.”
People Skills – learn to listen, communicate and connect to others. Growing your skills here will develop problem-solving abilities, empathy, and an open mind to work together for a common cause. Listening, a quality not everyone is capable of. Are you really listening or are you just waiting for your turn to “talk”? When you volunteer, depending on the task that is given you, learn to listen to one’s story and connect. Ask questions, they are more than willing to mentor you. One day you may be able to help someone with the same scenario by giving them a different perspective.
As an introvert, I’ve been able to gain a voice in the things I’m passionate about. I’m still learning and hope to grow with every opportunity given.
Resume Upgrade – your personal career matters. Your volunteer time can help you land that job. Employers recognize that it helps students build various skills and organizational experience outside of what they’d learn in school. Potential employers are looking at what you’re doing outside of work too. Do you give yourself selflessly? How are you making a commitment to a cause other than the place that pays you?
I’ve personally turned down two positions that were basically given to me with what I could complete by offering a value that is wanted. You may just be talking to your next employer when you’re working for free.
Personal Growth – this kind of goes together with Self-Awareness. You should set goals for yourself and start by setting practical goals. A benefit of working for free, you are in charge. A project you work on will represent you. You have the entire stage to showcase yourself in front of hundreds or thousands on your capabilities. Even if it’s a skill that you want to grow, find a volunteer job that you can gain a new skill.
For my job, I create POS and ads. After a while, working in the same industry, I wanted to be more creative. Things got repetitive and I wasn’t getting what I needed. I had to put my mind to a new perspective by finding a creative way to let out my frustration. I looked for organizations who needed help with creatives. I took on the “free” jobs. I now sit on the Board for one of these organizations and they allow me to do what I love to do. It’s small, but my little piece of art is displayed on 15 of the local city buses.
Reasons why you probably don’t volunteer?
Time – we get it, your time is precious. If your saving your time for family, there’s many opportunities to involve your family.
I took my (at the time) 11 year-old daughter to go volunteer at a booth with me. We were blind-sided and read the directions of what to do from a binder, but it was simple. She watched me interact with one customer, and the rest of the night she took the lead. I was so proud and impressed, I learned that my kid learns best from watching.
Unaware – not sure how, where and what exactly will you be doing.
United Way has a great website where you can filter what you want to do. Find your local United Way and search. If you don’t want to go that route, reach out to the company or organization directly. I once missed a job because it was already taken, but I saved the contact email. The following year I wrote back and got it. They loved what I did and my name was passed to local advertising agencies that were hiring.
Unpaid – kind of the point here, freely offer to take a task, but a task that you know you can deliver.
One hour of your time can go a long way. Your volunteer time can be deducted on your income tax returns. If you’re working for free and it’s not qualified to be deducted as volunteer hours, the skills you gained during that time should not be taken for granted.
Comment below if you volunteer or work for free and what “value” it gives you.