Spotlight

How volunteer work can help your career

Dec 02, 2019
There are many professional benefits to donating your time to a non-profit organisation. Ciara Tallon outlines how you can enhance your career by volunteering your experience and skill.

Over the last decade or so, the term ‘work-life balance’ has featured more and more in career conversations, and with millennials in particular. This need to make more of a balance often involves children, pets or parents but can also be a wish to carve out time for fitness, education and upskilling or volunteer work.

According to volunteering.ie, 28.4% of adults in Ireland volunteer; that is over one million people. 65% of those who volunteered were over the age of 45. Half of all volunteering was work carried out directly by individuals (informal) rather than through organisations (formal).

Getting started

Look at what you have access to, be it a sports club, scout den, church or community group that could benefit from your experience. Talk to people on the side-lines at your child’s football match to find out who else is working in this sector and how they got their foot in the door. 

It’s a good idea to look into your own organisation, as well. It may have some CSR initiatives and perhaps sponsor or collaborate with organisations in the not-for-profits. There may be room to leverage your connections to secure experience and exposure within these organisations. 

For employers, volunteering by employees is increasingly recognised as a potential way to develop broader skills. A recent Accenture report highlighted that 76% of volunteers said they had developed core work skills while volunteering.

Career benefits

Through our career consultations, we have seen an increase in the number of members who view volunteering as a strategic stepping stone and career move. Members are beginning to recognise that a period of volunteering can be a shrewd investment in their career in more ways than one.

The opportunity to develop new skills and strengths without it affecting current career plans can be of huge interest to members. Often a new group or organisation can challenge us differently and bring about fresh thinking, and this freedom from the confines of our day to day role can draw on untapped resources and spark our creativity to explore new strategies. It leads us to areas of abilities unbeknownst to us. 
Members also have the opportunity to explore an area of work or change of sector without the risk of financial penalties in a try-before-you-buy scenario, avoiding the potentially costly mistake of focusing on just one sector. A role working with young adults or with older people may have been a life-long dream but often the reality bears no resemblance to expectations. The chance to do this in a not-for-profit on a voluntary basis can be a valuable buffer.

The not-for-profit space has experienced a massive overhaul of its governance and risk processes so a fresh approach coming from outside of a not-for-profit field may be just what they need.  Perhaps the organisation in question uses state of the art systems or allows you the opportunity to oversee a team or group that doesn’t exist in your day-to-day role – they can all combine to broaden your skills set.  

The last decade or so has seen an increase in the demand for governance and compliance in the not-for-profit sector to ensure robust ‘fit-for-purpose’ checks and balances. Chartered Accountants have played a key role in this area by taking on full-time positions within these organisations. For members who would like to transition into this sector, a voluntary, non-executive director or board of directors opportunity may fit the requirements and give that not-for-profit exposure. 

Governance

Those looking to make the move from traditional practice and industry roles into the not-for-profit space can often find the experience frustrating and difficult without any prior industry knowledge or exposure. Members who gain exposure to the not-for-profit sector even in an unpaid capacity can find that they gain that crucial exposure and CV-enhancing experience which can subsequently evolve into a long-term career investment that eventually pays dividends in the form of a paid role. These roles also offer the opportunity to develop new skills and give sectoral exposure, as well as provide additional networking and brand development potential. 

Value to you and your career

In 2017, there were over 14,000 volunteers registered with local volunteer centres and the online national database of volunteering opportunities (IVOL). These volunteers clocked up an incredible 480,000 hours of volunteering with an estimated economic value of over €10.5 million.

Finally, whatever you are involved in outside of your working day has the opportunity to help you to broaden your views, opinions, expertise as well as gain invaluable contacts and connections in what could potentially be your next career move. This new sector may hold an interest for you, or separately the skills and areas of development may, as Julie Bond says, ‘give you the edge’ in that crucial interview or sectoral change.  What is invaluable is the mutual value-add to be gained by both the volunteers and the voluntary organisations – with knowledge sharing on both sides.
 
Ciara Tallon is a Career Coach and Recruitment Specialist with Chartered Accountants Ireland.