In today’s economic times we are seeing a variety of trends: positions are being eliminated as businesses strive for greater efficiency, mergers and acquisitions are forcing closures of local headquarters, Boomers are coming out of retirement to transition to a second career and millennials are looking for meaningful careers versus having a “job.” During transitions such as these, people are turning to volunteering for nonprofit organizations not only for the feel-good factor of giving back to a cause they are passionate about, but also to gain new skills, experience, and a larger network. But to make the organization work for you, you also must work for it.

Did you know that the nonprofit sector in Florida:

·      Employs more than 630,000 people,

·      Is the fourth largest employer among Florida industries,

·      Between nonprofits and foundations, it holds assets exceeding $91 billion,

·      Generates more than $48 billion in total revenue, expending over $44 billion;

·      Generates more than $61 billion in total economic activity.

Why wouldn’t you want to tap into this industry to expand your network?

 

KNOW (OR FIGURE OUT) YOUR PASSION

Volunteering is far from easy, but if you are passionate about your cause you will easily give of time, talent and treasure. You will be able to bring out the best in yourself and feel the satisfaction of truly making a difference to the lives of others. If you have not figured out your singular passion, make a list of the top three. For example, if it is animal welfare, curing cancer for children, and homelessness then make sure you align the charities in your community that fill this need. Make an appointment to take a tour, meet the volunteer coordinator and learn more about your future commitment may look like. This will help you to decide how much time you can give and determine which of those passions are the right fit for you.

I do caution you to not take on multiple volunteer positions at one time. Why? Because it is not fair to the nonprofit if you cannot meet the commitment level and it speaks to the inauthenticity of your volunteerism.  Over the years, I have met many people early in their career and those who are influencers and when I learn that they are serving on more than two boards, I think (as do others), how are they truly effective in their role with the nonprofit? The truth – they aren’t, and you won’t be either. When you lead with your “why” or “your story” with others it overlaps with their values and forms stronger relationships.

 

CREATE MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS

The nonprofit culture will open doors to a whole new audience. The nonprofit’s staff, volunteers, donors and most importantly those touched by the mission are people you would not have otherwise encountered and many may want to learn about you. When you volunteer, lead with your story, not your history. If you are there for the right reasons, people will make a more meaningful connection and it will also accomplish two very important objectives:

1. Others will associate your business with your good nature and your social responsibility, and

2. Others will be more likely to patronize your business or send you referrals, which you would not have experienced otherwise.

Ultimately, as in for-profit business, networking is about relationships. If you make this your mantra, then your time spent volunteering will reap great rewards.

 

REMEMBER TO LISTEN

There is a saying, God gave you two ears and one mouth. In business, in leadership and yes in volunteering. Everyone you meet has something valuable to teach you. It is also a great way to understand where the need within the nonprofit lies and how you can contribute your talents. If you are a CPA, how you can help the nonprofit ensure they are in alignment with best practices in the finance office or accounting procedures. If you are a Community Leader, how can you leverage your sphere of influence for the betterment of the nonprofit and its mission. Lastly, it is important to remember that working with and among other volunteers takes patience and respect just as in the workplace.

 

TO GIVE OR NOT TO GIVE THAT IS THE QUESTION

Volunteering for a nonprofit organization is now becoming the new branding card to bolster one’s professional reputation, gain employment, and gain humanitarian credibility in social networks. Nothing separates the true heart of a volunteer from that of a resume builder than this fact. In case you may not know this, at some point in time you will be asked to give of your treasure. This can be quantified a variety of ways: a personal gift that is meaningful to you, through a corporate gift or match of your company, through an in-kind drive at the holiday season or through a social media campaign. This is why defining your passion is so important. People give to people and this is based on relationships not transactional relationships.

 

YOU WILL RECEIVE MORE THAN YOU GIVE

In the end, there is no greater gift than that of service above self and when you connect with others who also believe this. Something magical happens we realize we are not alone – professionally or personally. When you give of your time, talent and treasure, people take notice and that authenticity can connect you beyond whatever your immediate goal may be. Relationships, connections and passion are what build communities and businesses, so what are you waiting for?