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Today, Christmas Eve, "giving back" is top of mind for many. And delivering meals to the local homeless shelter or dropping dollars in Salvation Army buckets delivers undeniable “feel good” benefits; in fact, a paper published by Harvard Health showed that weekly volunteering leads to happiness levels comparable to a life-changing salary boost.
But for you as an entrepreneur, giving back can also have a meaningful impact on your professional career. Here’s how:
You’ll gain meaningful leadership experience.
Volunteers often work on a team — whether building houses or sitting on a board — and the planning process allows you opportunities to develop and hone your leadership skills. As McGill University faculty member Karl Moore wrote in Forbes: “Because corporate managers volunteering in nonprofits don’t have titles to define their positions, they have to practice what some call ‘per mission leadership.’
"That is, they have to earn the trust and respect of the people they are supervising. Also, they need to do all this with what are usually much more limited resources than what they are accustomed to in their ‘real jobs,’ which often requires significant creative skills.”
A recent study by Deloitte supported these points: 85 percent of the study’s respondents agreed that skills-based volunteering had helped them advance their communication skills versus 77 percent saying this about non-skills-based volunteering. When you’re presented with a challenge in a non-professional environment, you may have an opportunity to show off what you can do.
You’ll diversify your network.
It’s extremely easy in both your professional and personal life to keep your “circle” fairly small. In fact, broadening your network and your friendship base can be extremely challenging once you’re over the age of 30. As the New York Times reported, “People [tend] to interact with fewer people as they move toward midlife.”
When you volunteer, you are often exposed to not only an entirely new group of like-minded people, but also often a group of individuals you wouldn’t cross paths with otherwise. While this is a good tool from a professional development standpoint, it can be critically important if you’re looking for a new job.
As U.S. News & World Report wrote: “By volunteering, you’ll become a known quantity to an entirely new pool of people. You’ll now have a whole new group in your network who know from direct experience with you that you are (hopefully) reliable, competent and sane. These traits are not to be underestimated on the job market. These people will then be able to vouch for you to others in their own networks.”
You’ll become better able to put your career problems in perspective.
There are well-documented benefits in getting away from work. Not only will you have time to recharge and return refreshed, but you’ll be able to put things in perspective. While you can reap similar benefits by reading a book, going on a run or hanging out with friends, volunteering presents a true opportunity to disconnect.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review stated that one of the best ways to disconnect from work is to change your environment to one that supports your new behavior and discourages the old one. We’re all too tied to our cell phones, so as the Harvard article advised, you can set healthier work-life boundaries by turning off or leaving behind your phone or computer.
When you’re volunteering, you have no choice but to be in the moment. You’re literally cleaning things up, sitting with kids, painting or building someone’s house or assistance center or playing with dogs and cats stuck in cages. You’re not tethered to your phone, so you have more potential to return to the office on Monday with renewed energy and better ideas.
You’ll be better able to tap into your passion and boost your resume.
If you’re wild about wildlife, or get dreamy thinking about the arts, do some research into organizations that fit within your interests. You’ll be far more likely to gain fulfillment and stick with a volunteer program that you’re invested in from a personal, philosophical or ethical perspective.
Don’t get me wrong: If your boyfriend wants you to come with him to build a house one Saturday for Habitat for Humanity, that’s a great cause — but you’re more likely to go back again and again if it’s something that really speaks to you. That’s part of what we love about CariClub, where we connect young professionals with philanthropic organizations based directly on their interests. There is no shame in finding your own niche within the philanthropic world — because there is truly something there for everyone.
As an added bonus: When you are passionate about activities outside of work, you’ll be likely to be seen by potential employoers as a well-rounded and diverse candidate. In fact, Fast Company stated that 92% of employers surveyed believed that volunteering expanded an employee’s professional skill set, and 82 percent were more likely to choose a candidate with volunteering experience.
You may meet a mentor.
When you volunteer, especially when you take a seat on a young philanthropic board, you are often exposed to senior level members who are equally involved in the same causes. In spending time together, you’re developing a mentor-mentee relationship, which can be invaluable.
In fact, a 2013 executive coaching survey cited that 80 percent of CEOs surveyed had received some form of mentorship — and that starting the relationship over a shared interest was infinitely easier than cold-calling.
How philanthropy helped me.
On a personal note, philanthropy played an integral part in my own life growing up, and it is impossible to fathom where I would be today without the help of organizations throughout my youth and childhood.
I’m an immigrant, who moved to this country as a child with my sister and single mother. But despite my mother’s tenacity and perseverance, there was a limit to what she could provide. So, as a firm believer in the quote “It takes a village,” she turned to non-profit organizations and scholarships to help provide my sister and me with the best education possible.
My sister, Erica, was admitted into the Prep for Prep program, a non-profit that provides training and placement for underserved youth, who go on to attend some of the most exclusive private schools in the country. My own experience was that somebody at the non-profit saw something in me, too, and helped "prep" me for acceptance to Middlesex, and later, Trinity colleges.
This all laid the foundation for me to get what I consider one of the greatest tools in my arsenal — a quality education. I later went on to secure a job in finance, where I worked successfully for a number of years before starting CariClub.
Practicing what I preach, today I am on the board of Row New York, exposing children who would not have the opportunity otherwise to the sport of crewing, an activity that taught me, as a teen at boarding school, lessons on how to attain happiness, teamwork and discipline. At Row New York, we not only offer the fundamentals of the sport but also tutor, mentor and work with the teens to create a safe and structured space where they can thrive.
I can only hope that I am making half as much of a difference in these kids’ lives as others have in mine. So this holiday week, consider "giving back" yourself by getting involved. The benefits are far and wide reaching — you can quite literally change someone’s life.
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December 24, 2018 at 10:01AM