Volunteering Not Only Rocks Socks, It Helps Your Corporate Career Too

I was recently distraught by a comment made by a colleague. An affinity group that I’m a part of at my firm sent out a survey asking participants to provide feedback on the group’s activities. One question asked participants to rank how involved they’ve been in the past years, requesting that those who were not actively involved to explain why. One individual’s response was that the organization is overly focused on community events and not enough on the eminence of our firm. He stated that this is a “disconnect” that he could not fully support.

Stop, Nikita. Pause. Breathe.

To say that this comment frustrates me would be an understatement. First, let me just say that I have absolutely no issue with individuals who are not passionate about community service. While I will admit that I really struggle to understand why it doesn’t rock their socks, I do respect their perspectives. However this particular individual’s comment, in my mind, does not provide a reasonable explanation as to why he or she has not wanted to be involved over the years. Let me explain why.

Community involvement does build eminence for the firm.
I’ll start by addressing the most obviously incorrect part of the response. Whether or not one agrees with the reasoning behind corporations’ involvement with non-profits and causes, there is valuable marketing done for a firm by having employees get involved in the community. For a firm like mine, the primary form of community service we provide is pro-bono consulting work. The relationships that are formed while executing those projects and the word of mouth generated about who we are and what we do is extremely valuable in the development of future business opportunities.

The firm also uses community involvement to build eminence for the firm by supporting employees who go out into the community via partnerships with local non-profits and organizations. This is typically done throughout the year, often organized with small groups at the employee level. The firm also supports community service by organizing a specific day within the year where everybody in the country leaves the office on a Friday to spend the day working in the community. All of these events build a strong reputation for the firm in the community through the blatant marketing of our name (think 100s of company tshirts in one place) as well as through the excitement that many of us have for being able to give back with our colleagues in some way.

The actual purpose of the affinity group is to provide opportunities for networking.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again and again: attending community service events is one of the best opportunities to network. For me, relationships develop most naturally when I’m sharing a common experience with other individuals. Whether it’s working with colleagues to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless or cleaning up a school, community service events provide an environment where you and other individuals are working toward a common goal and enjoying each other’s company along the way. By creating such opportunities - in addition to the social, more formal networking events - the group has actually succeeded in achieving its mission. So I have a hard time understanding the disconnect mentioned in this individual's response.

Volunteerism also provides opportunities for professional development.
This is something that I’ve noticed that many people don’t see. Yes, volunteering gives you the opportunity to do something worthwhile, make an impact (however small), and feel good about it. That’s why most of us do it. However, while you may recognize that you are offering something of value to the organization you are working with, also recognize that they are offering you opportunities in return.

Skills-based volunteerism provides individuals with the opportunity to take on roles within non-profits and other organizations that allow them to both utilize and further develop skillsets. Whether you are simply looking for an opportunity to use your expertise in a new environment or you are looking for an opportunity to try something completely new, volunteering can help. Furthermore, it is a great opportunity to seek feedback on your performance from the leaders and employees of the organization.

Lastly, volunteering provides opportunities for career growth by providing you with a safe environment to explore both personal and professional interests. Volunteering for an organization is an excellent way to learn about a new field, develop relationships with current employees, and get your foot in the door if you are looking for a new job. Any way you look at it, it’s an investment that is guaranteed to pay off. As Melissa Maddox Barnes, Esq. states in her post on the Womanifesting blog, “Who knows, you may be able to volunteer your way into your dream job.”

A savvy professional is able to see the opportunities to build eminence for the firm, develop one’s network and take advantage of various professional development opportunities through community service. It’s one thing to state that volunteerism is not something that interests you as you pursue your career goals, however don’t disregard it because of false assumptions that it won't significantly contribute to your professional journey.