The Value of Volunteering

How Serving My Community Made Me a Better Employee

I’ve been volunteering in my community since I was an elementary school kid. My volunteerism was fostered through my Girl Scout troop, my church activities, and most importantly by my mom. As a child, I did all sorts of activities from visiting nursing homes to creating crafts for hospital patients. This set the course for me and sparked my passion for volunteerism.

As an adult in the corporate world, I’ve kept my pulse on the community through different employee engagement opportunities. My employers have been very supportive of my volunteer efforts and it’s no wonder why. Volunteering has made me a better employee and they get to reap the benefits!

Jump In!

Volunteerism has taught me the importance of taking responsibility and signing myself up for tasks. A lot of employees have the idea that their manager has the sole responsibility to assign the work. If they aren’t assigned a task, they sometimes feel free to roam the halls or scroll through Facebook on company time.

As a volunteer, you learn to pitch in. You know that just being there on site is not enough to add value. You have to DO something. That’s a transferable skill in the workplace. As a paid employee, I have created a lot of my own opportunities by jumping in when I see something needs to be done. Employers appreciate it when their employees cannot only see what needs to be done, but can also proactively take action to solve a problem.

The Devil is in the Details

As a volunteer, I learned early on that it is important to ask questions. Many times, I’ve found that there are “hidden expectations” for volunteers. For example, I once signed up to be part of a choir. From the surface, it looked like you met for an hour to practice weekly and then performed once a week. That was not at all the case. There were lots of extra performances, one-off practices and a slew of social gatherings for the group. The time I needed to set aside for being an active participant of the group was much more than the two hours a week I thought I was committing to serve.

Now, when I take on projects at work, I don’t make assumptions about what is involved in the project. I ask a lot of questions. I want to know what the boss expects so that I can be prepared to deliver results. To really be effective, you have to understand the expectations and know what resources you’ll need to get the job done.

I’ve also learned that people don’t omit the details on purpose. Asking questions shows a genuine interest in the project and it will help you ferret out the information that people sometimes forget or overlook as “unimportant.”

Tennis Shoes Required

Setting any project up for success requires having the right tools and resources. If you are landscaping for an elderly neighbor, you are going to need tennis shoes so that you can move around comfortably while weeding the flowerbeds. When I’m volunteering I always check to see what I am expected to wear or bring to the event.

Like volunteers, employees also need to know what tools they need in their “toolkit” to get the job done, and get the job done well. Do you have the software installed that you need? Were you trained on how to use it? To have a truly successful project, you’ll need to think beyond just the project goals. You’ll need to assess what resources are needed to accomplish those tasks and you’ll have to be prepared on how to use those resources, too.

No Need to Fly Solo

An amazing thing happens every time I sign up to volunteer. I put my name on the list as a solo act, but I inevitably end up working as part of a group. Non-profit charities have learned the value of synergy. A group of volunteers will often accomplish more than the sum of their individual efforts.

Good managers know that this is true, too. You may have been hired for your individual accomplishments and knowledge, but you joined a team. Together, you and your fellow employees can accomplish much more than if you all fly off solo in your own direction. You can leverage each other’s skills and resources. (Can I borrow your stapler? Do you know how to create a pivot table?) Show your team spirit and together you can all excel!