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Build Your Skills and Network with Strategic Volunteering

By Mary Beth Barrett-Newman

Mary Beth Barrett-Newman is President of 2nd Career Consulting, She spent almost 30 years in the corporate world and brings her experience, expertise and enthusiasm as she coaches clients on their journey to a new position. Mary Beth is a frequent contributor to the iRelaunch blog and podcast and is a moderator of the the iRelaunch Return to Work Forum on Facebook.

Returning to the workforce can be overwhelming, especially when you may feel insecure about your abilities. Are there some “rusty” skills you need to refresh? New skills you need or want to learn? An industry or position you want more information on? Incorporating Strategic Volunteering into your relaunch plan is a way to accomplish all that and more! So; what is Strategic Volunteering and how do you do it?

Strategic Volunteering is nothing more than being deliberate in the volunteer work you choose to do and using those activities to not only benefit the organization you’re helping but to also benefit you by providing real working knowledge and current experience preparing you for your Relaunch!

Some areas to consider:

Technology – What technology will be required in the positions that interest you? Networking with people in those jobs will give you the answer. Most jobs require some basic working knowledge of Microsoft Office products like Word, Excel, Outlook and maybe even PowerPoint. You may need to be familiar with tools like Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, Survey Monkey or Donors Forum - a common database used by nonprofits. Volunteer to be the treasurer of an organization so you can create spreadsheets in Excel. If you’re on a Board, be the one that creates a PowerPoint presentation for the quarterly meeting, or start using Outlook as your personal email and calendar manager. Find opportunities to learn the software you need to be competitive and up-to-date.

Experience – There are other areas you may need to develop in addition to technology. Managing people and/or projects as a PTA president or committee leader, involving yourself in a PR campaign for a nonprofit, developing a marketing plan to increase enrollment at a private school or brushing up on your public speaking skills by giving a talk at a community event are all possibilities.

Industry – “Try out” a new field or update yourself on an old one. Join industry groups and volunteer to be on a committee, assist at a workshop or provide help with quarterly or annual meetings. Interested in politics? Join the campaign of a local, state or national politician to learn more. This will also help you start building a new “industry-focused” network, which may be helpful in your search.

Network – We can never have too large of a network. Involving yourself strategically in volunteer roles allows others to get to know your work style and ethic.

Be resourceful. Decide what you need to do to make yourself marketable and go looking for it. You’ll boost your skills, increase your confidence and expand your network!