By Benita Aalto (photo by State Farm)
You probably saw this headline in the Winnipeg Free Press recently: “Top banker tells jobless youth to work for free.”
The “top banker” in question was Governor of the Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz, and though his advice about volunteering raised some eyebrows, the benefit of his comment is that it reminded people volunteering can have an impact on students’ careers, even while they’re looking for work.
And many charities would welcome the help.
The reality in the non-profit sector is that many are frequently overworked and understaffed. Finding donors and funders is a huge task on its own, but the actual work of the organization needs to happen at the same time as the funds to continue the work; it’s an unending cycle.
Volunteering your time and labour to a cause you feel strongly about can be a boon for a time-strapped organization, plus it can make you feel good, and even be an important component in a scholarship or job application.
Getting started as a volunteer
If you don’t know what you’d like to do, check out charitable sector websites, like http://www.CharityVillage.com or http://www.Volunteer.ca, to find volunteer postings in your area.
If you already know where you’d like to volunteer, go to the charity’s website to see what kinds of volunteers they need, and what their application process is. If there isn’t volunteer info posted on the website, call or email the volunteer coordinator or the development department and ask for details. Be prepared to be interviewed and to have your resume and references checked.
Figure out your time commitment
If you can only volunteer an hour a week, be upfront about that – both with the charity and with yourself. If you have classes, a part-time job, and want some semblance of a social life, be clear about how much time and energy you can give. And be realistic: part of your volunteer time commitment is the trip to get there and back.
Volunteering at a one-day event may be a better option if you have limited time. Training a volunteer is time-consuming and potentially costly: staff time is required to train you, and if a background check is needed, then that costs the organization money.
Don’t be a CV-weasel
Yes, potential employers and scholarship granters are impressed by a robust resume that includes volunteering, but don’t be a CV-weasel, i.e. focusing all your efforts on getting the chance to run projects or supervise other volunteers, so your CV will look more impressive. The charity is not the means to your end; the charity is serving community members in need and you helping it fulfills that valuable function.
Remember: you may be working for free, but you can be professional
Tasks like scanning documents, packing boxes or cleaning storage areas can look boring or even menial, but don’t be fooled. A well-organized storage area, for example, can mean better inventory control, which means cost savings for the non-profit –meaning donations can go further. Your work can have an impact on a charity’s bottom line, so do even the little things with the big picture in mind.