How to Expand Your Professional Network Through Volunteerism

Today, we see certain trends: positions being eliminated as businesses strive for greater efficiency, mergers and acquisitions forcing closures of local headquarters, baby boomers coming out of retirement to transition to a second career, millennials looking for meaningful careers versus having a “job.” During transitions such as these, people turn to volunteering for nonprofit organizations not only for the feel-good factor of giving back to a cause they care about, but also to gain new skills, experience and a larger network. But to make the organization work for you, you also must work for it.

In Florida, the nonprofit sector:

• Employs more than 630,000 people.

• Is the fourth-largest employer among Florida industries.

• Holds assets exceeding $91 billion, between nonprofits and foundations.

• Generates more than $48 billion in total revenue, spending over $44 billion.

• Generates more than $61 billion in total economic activity.

Know (or Figure Out) Your Passion

Volunteering is far from easy, but if you are passionate about your cause, you can easily give of time, talent and treasure. You will be able to bring out the best in yourself and feel the satisfaction of truly making a difference in the lives of others. If you have not figured out your singular passion, make a list of the top three. For example, if they are animal welfare, curing cancer for children and homelessness, then make sure you align with the local charities that fill those needs. Make an appointment to take a tour, meet the volunteer coordinator and learn more about what your future commitment might look like. This will help you to decide how much time you can give and determine which of those passions are the right fit for you.

I do caution you to not take on multiple volunteer positions at one time. It’s not fair to the nonprofit if you cannot meet the commitment level, and it speaks to the inauthenticity of your volunteerism. I have met people early in their career and those who are influencers, and when I learn that they are serving on more than two boards, I ask how effective they truly are in their role with the organization. The truth is, they aren’t—and you won’t be either. When you lead with your “why” or “your story” with others, it overlaps with their values and forms stronger relationships.

Create Meaningful Connections

The nonprofit culture will open doors to a whole new audience. The nonprofit organization’s staff, volunteers, donors and clients are people you would not have otherwise encountered. When you volunteer, lead with your story, not your history. If you are there for the right reasons, people will make a meaningful connection and it will also accomplish two important objectives:

• Others will associate your business with your good nature and your social responsibility.

• Others will be more likely to patronize your business or send you referrals, which you would not have experienced otherwise.

Ultimately, as in for-profit business, networking is about relationships. If you make this your mantra, then your time spent volunteering will reap great rewards.

You Will Receive More Than You Give

In the end, there is no greater gift than that of service above self and connecting with others who also believe this.

When you give of your time, talent and treasure, people notice, and that authenticity can connect you beyond whatever your immediate goal may be.

Relationships, connections and passion are what build communities and businesses, so what are you waiting for?

Michelle Turman is the CEO of Catalyst Consulting Services, which facilitates change for nonprofit organizations in the areas of executive searches, organizational management and fundraising. With more than 27 years of nonprofit experience, Turman has been responsible for increasing the impact and best practices of nonprofit organizations she serves and has raised more than $60 million for the local community through her professional and personal philanthropic efforts. Contact her at catalystcs.com or 813.839.2282.

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