5 ways volunteers boost their careers

He plans to become a middle-school or high-school chemistry teacher. Since his layoff, he's applied for substitute and teaching aide positions while still volunteering at the museum.

Other volunteers can benefit from pushing themselves in new professional directions. Bernstein cites the example of someone looking to break into a career in marketing.

"You might help a nonprofit with its promotional strategy, like helping them design an e-mail campaign to reach their members," she says.

Ryan says volunteering helps clarify whether a new career path is a good fit.

For example, someone considering enrolling in medical school can benefit from helping out a children's hospital.

"When you're holding babies or reading, you're testing the waters," Ryan says.

Volunteers see professionals at work in everyday settings. Someone who volunteers to work with a doctor sees the full range of a physician's daily experiences, from the moving to the monotonous.

"It's a very practical way to understand what the work would really be like," Ryan says. "Do I think I could do it? Would I like it?"

Build on past expertise

In other cases, out-of-work volunteers may be less interested in a new career and more interested in sharpening skills in their present career field.

McNary worked for Chrysler for 14 years until she was laid off last November. While seeking a job, she's increased her volunteer activities at her church and started serving on Habitat for Humanity Detroit's finance committee.

"Nonprofit accounting and reporting is very different from the for-profit world," McNary says. "My strengths in aligning operational goals and financial metrics, which I learned in the for-profit world, are coming in handy and I'm growing in ways I never imagined."

For example, McNary says she's learning to manage the cash flow of donations and grants, along with presenting nonprofit financial information in an easy-to-understand manner to superiors and peers.

Jennifer Benz, a benefits-communication specialist, says she's benefited from applying expertise she acquired in the corporate world to new volunteer roles at nonprofits.

For the past seven years, Benz has provided pro bono services to the Taproot Foundation, which matches professionals to nonprofits seeking specialized assistance.

"There's a lot the corporate world could learn from nonprofit(s), and vice versa," Benz says. "Small, nimble organizations can be very resourceful in how they use their budget."

Benz says such lessons have made her a firm believer in the professional value of volunteer experiences.

"I'm a chronic volunteer now," Benz says of her work with Taproot. "It's part of my professional identity."


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