I’m a passionate and regular volunteer with several different organisations. I contribute my time, skills, expertise and energy in various roles to add and share knowledge with the wider community. Within my career, being a volunteer gives me a lot of skills that I can apply and gives a great added value to my role as a Project Manager, Leader and Mentor.
Volunteering isn’t just about ‘giving my time away for free‘. For me, it’s about thinking longer term and the value that I can add to an organisation but also how I can influence strategy, learn new skills and technologies for free.
I have volunteered throughout my career and in various roles. Whilst being involved with grass roots activities to support and develop my local area, I’ve also challenged the inefficiencies that we were faced with in trying to develop and gather input. During this Blog, I’d like to encourage you to think about how you could volunteer in your industry, local community and share some of the benefits that I have got from volunteering.
Negotiation and diplomacy
One of the first skills that I learned as part of being a volunteer, was how to negotiate to get what I need when I had absolutely none/ little leverage available. It’s really important to remember who you are working with, what their motivations are and how I’m able to get what I want, without giving away the little leverage that I do have.
Motivating a volunteer team is different to one that is paid for a project role. You learn how to motivate others and be persuasive without being pushy. Motivation can also look different. I have rarely used the carrot and stick approach to motivating a team, but I look at what the team are working towards, what the end goal is and use this as our motivating factor.
Through networking, I have been able to secure contacts for future job opportunities, been able to find new colleagues as well as widen my knowledge about potential job opportunities for different organisations.
Networking has also opened many doors that can help in other areas of my professional career such as speaking, sharing knowledge and building my ‘brand’ as a Project Manager and thought leader. As a result of networking at a recent online conference, I was given a great opportunity to share knowledge and give back to a charity that is very close to my heart.
What do you need to remember?
Deadlines: When people are giving their expertise for free, you need to realise that deadlines may need to be adjusted or expectations adjusted to fit into their daily life. We tried to manage schedules accordingly and
Where you are on the priority list: One thing that I realised very quickly was that I was low on most people’s priority list. Their ‘first job’, family, other committments all came first and this did mean that I often had to wait for replies, or chase more than I normally would in my day job.
Timings: I often volunteer in the evenings and weekends. This works out great for the USA where I can still be in their working day but I often find that it can be difficult on my personal life. I try to limit my activities to a maximum of 6-8hours per week and this has been the right ‘balance’ for me.
Where to Volunteer?
There are a lot of international, national and local bodies that you can contact for volunteering. Whether this is for your professional body, local sports team or women’s refuge, there are always opportunities available. I would choose an organisation that ‘speaks’ to you and where you can align your personal beliefs, goals and expectations. I would also recommend that if you find a volunteering engagement not working out for whatever reason, do not be afraid to stop it and try something else.