4 Tips to Help Out and Stand Out as an All-Star Volunteer

Amy Thomasson
October 12, 2021

Looks like you’ve forgotten something. If you’re like most job seekers, you’re neglecting a key step to land a new job. According to a survey of recruiters conducted by Deloitte, only 30% of job seekers mention volunteer experience on their résumés, despite the 82% of surveyed recruiters preference to applicants involved in volunteerism.

What if you’re not currently searching for a new role? Career ladder climbers aren’t exempt from the importance of volunteering. Volunteering builds your leadership skills, enhances your professional profile, and helps you make impactful connections. The best volunteers know volunteering is more than showing up and checking off one more section of your LinkedIn profile; they understand the secrets to make the most of their discretionary volunteer time, provide the most value to those they serve and stand out amongst their volunteer peers. They know how to be all-star volunteers. 

Here are their tips:

Sweat the small stuff
“Every organization, large or small, needs volunteers to fulfill their missions. There are plenty of day-of or quick tasks (15–30 minutes) to achieve to get your foot in the door as an important and reliable volunteer. I always have huge takeaways when I volunteer, so I often have to ask myself, who benefited more? The organization or me? You are more of an expert on many topics than you may think, and can offer up small chunks of time to prove your value to your industry and your organization,” says Pam Rosenberg, CAE, Manager of Learning and Development, The Risk Management Association.

Pam understands the importance of being willing to take on any size volunteer commitment, from smaller tasks like reviewing conference proposals to serving on event planning committees or her current larger role as special interest group (SIG) chair and SIG planning member for Association Forum, a hub for Chicagoland association industry professionals.

Don’t overcommit
Lindsey Nelson, CAE, is the vice president of operations for United Benefit Advisors, and she has also held a diverse array of volunteer roles. “I’ve served on the Stewardship Council at my church, as a course instructor, participated in a variety of committees and SIGs at Association Forum, and as a parent volunteer on the PTA. I’ve also served as a professional mentor to several emerging leaders in the industry,” she said.

Through all of these roles, Lindsey has learned the importance of understanding her volunteer capacity. “Follow through on your commitments. It’s easy to get excited in the moment when a new opportunity or project you are passionate about pops up, but it’s so important to really ask yourself, before accepting, whether or not you will be able to sustain your excitement and momentum for the project to carry it through to the finish line,” she advised. “If not, or if you are unsure, you should probably pass on taking it on.”

Plan your goals and work your plan
“Plan out your volunteer goals like you would any other goal-based plan. Write down your plan and make it plain. You could volunteer for anything or everything but being strategic in your approach will allow you to best capitalize on the time vested. Seek out volunteer roles that: 1. Interest you, 2. Allow you to add value, and 3. Position you to be instrumental in the success of the organization where you volunteer,” said Burt Blanchard, the director of membership at InterAction.

Burt is well-versed in both goal setting and result-delivering, having served as president and a board member of a community-based foundation, PTO member and committee chair, committee member and course instructor for Association Forum. He even the John C. Thiel Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his volunteer service. 

“The biggest benefit is the privilege to serve. There is a reward in giving, as you receive more back in your giving,” he said. Plotting out your volunteer goals in advance of beginning a new volunteer role will allow you to optimize your time and your service to others.

Become a value multiplier
I have personally made a concerted effort over the past two years to become more involved with volunteering, including co-chairing a committee, mentoring emerging association leaders, and speaking and creating content for association industry organizations, such as Sidecar and Association Forum.

As a professional with a background in marketing, communications, and business development, I approach volunteerism with my sales and marketing “hat,” thinking about ways I can not only teach a course or speak at an event, but how I can optimize my skills and my network to drive registration. One way I achieve this is through shooting simple 30–45 second video testimonials for any courses or events I’m involved with. I jot down my thoughts, get out my trusty iPhone and within minutes I’ve created a video I can send off to the organization to enhance their promotions, while also building my professional profile. 

Think about small ways you can go above and beyond to create value.