by Carol A. PooreWithin the next decade, community volunteerism — the practice of being a servant leader, holding our community in trusteeship — will be one of the most valuable character-building, career-enhancing investments made by professionals.Community volunteerism is key for people who not only desire successful lifework, but hunger to reap the rewards of living purposefully.Volunteerism is a career investment that enables the community trustee to gain new skills and add a passionate cadre of focused, caring, committed people into his or her professional network. The idea of building a portfolio of career investments, similar to building a financial portfolio, is central to minimizing career risk and maximizing one’s ability to live and work purposefully. (Read more in this article: Building Your Career Portfolio: Four Career Investments for a Purposeful Lifetime.)More than you might ever imagine, you could be the only source of community mentorship in the lives of those with whom you interact each day. You have an opportunity to encourage your employees and colleagues to gain lasting leadership skills by making a difference in their community.
Here are five, specific ways you can redefine your direction, as well as point others toward a life of community service.
1. Understand how volunteerism builds career skills.
- Through volunteerism, you can gain leadership skills, including planning, project management, and motivational abilities.
- You can attain executive skills, such as fund development, which requires the ability to target constituencies, ask for valuable contributions, and negotiate a positive outcome. Other executive benefits include overseeing a budget (or accountability for a larger budget than that of the current work situation).
Pam Overton, partner in the national law firm of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, Attorneys at Law, has built a career composed of volunteer and professional investments.Pam’s personal purpose is to excel at her career, while supporting her family and placing them as her No. 1 priority. Her purpose includes having a strong charitable and spiritual life to add perspective and balance.Her litigation practice focuses on complex litigation, business torts, breach of contract, and condemnation matters. In this role, Pam won the Golden Heart of Business Award in 2000. She also was recognized by Today’s Arizona Woman Magazine as one of the “Top 10 Business Women in the State of Arizona” for two consecutive years.Pam’s volunteer investments include serving on the board of directors for Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping women who need assistance in career, financial and life skills to better their futures. This board of powerful community movers and shakers provides Pam an opportunity to learn leadership skills, provide value to the organization, and learn more about community issues.Pam’s additional volunteer investments include supporting cancer and heart research and development. She has dedicated many fundraising hours at the school her children attend, integrating volunteer service with family life.”All of these career investments add valuable perspective to my career and bring opportunities to learn and build lasting friendships,” Pam said.2. Develop a personal purpose statement.Most people have an innate desire to experience purposeful lifework. Most of us have no problem with being goal-driven and busy. But “busy” does not always equal being purposeful.A computer information systems manager insisted that one of her strengths was being “goal driven.” She had set goals and achieved them, one by one. But when asked what her purpose in life was, she drew a blank.The manager became teary-eyed. “Defining my purpose seems like such a monumental decision. I’ve been putting it off.”Personally contemplate the following questions. Use the questions in staff meetings and in other appropriate venues to assist others in develop their personal purpose — the investment strategy for career and volunteer decisions.
- How would I like to be remembered 100 years from now?
- When I’m at my very best, or at my prime, what am I doing when I feel this way?
- What am I passionate about?
- What kinds of things make me feel content — that I’m contributing something of value to the world around me?
- In recent years, here are two projects with which I made a difference. (List them).
Now think about the big picture and write down the purpose of your life by filling in the blank: The purpose of my life is to——————————.Begin with a working draft. Don’t aim for perfection! Your personal purpose statement does not need to be perfectly defined or wordsmithed. It will always be a work in progress. Just putting your thoughts on paper is an excellent start.As time goes on, you can revise or refine your personal purpose statement as needed. Once you’ve developed a working personal purpose statement, you’re ready to plan career investments that can help you steadily build career wealth.3. Find truly purposeful volunteer pursuits.When assessing the volunteer investments, consider five critical areas, keeping personal purpose in mind:
- The Cause
- The Experience
- The Network
- Your Ability to Contribute
- Your Available Time
The Cause: Does the cause match your personal purpose? Will this experience help you fulfill your personal purpose and bring joy in serving others? How does the opportunity support and synergize with your personal purpose?The Experience (or expertise gained): Will serving others add one or more valuable experiences or areas of expertise beyond what your current job or business pursuits offer? It’s OK to look for, and expect to gain, needed experience outside of your current job. Gaining expertise can be a great motivator for selecting the right type of community service.The Network: Does the opportunity put you in touch with others that can help you achieve your personal purpose? Will this cause put you in touch with mentors, potential new colleagues, and friends who share similar community passion, and who are action-oriented achievers?Your Ability to Contribute: Does the opportunity give you an ability to contribute something of value? Does it enable you to offer your skills or areas of core competency, as well as solve problems?Your Available Time: Does the time commitment fit with your schedule and lifestyle?
4. Learn how to evaluate nonprofit organizations.Look for nonprofit agencies that demonstrate well-organized leadership. The agency should have a clearly stated mission statement. Volunteers should have job descriptions and should be trained and recognized by the agency for making a difference. Volunteers should have input into the programs in which they serve.5. Join a board of directors.Serving on a board of directors can provide valuable management and decision-making skills as you assist an organization with important strategic and fiscal decisions.Getting on board can be a straightforward process if you understand the basic steps:
- Know your personal purpose and expectations for joining a board of directors.
- Identify organizations that match your purpose and profile of expectations. Arrange for a tour of the organization, and have the agency staff send you information.
- Make sure you have the expertise it takes to join the board. Most boards seek professionals who are critical thinkers, who can weigh options and make good decisions. A financial or business background often is required to serve on for-profit as well as nonprofit boards.
- Tell colleagues who can help you connect with the organization. Once you’ve made your desires clear, you’ll be surprised how your colleagues can provide advice and contacts you may not have access to on your own.
In the words of author Dr. Scott Peck, “collaboration is a way of working where both power struggles and excessive politeness take a back seat to team goals.” You can experience the power of community service — working cooperatively with other leaders who are cause-focused.Equally as valuable, we all can gain executive thinking, problem-solving and collaboration skills to bring back into our workplace.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms. Carol A. Poore is the author of Building Your Career Portfolio (The Career Press, Inc., 2001). Active in the Phoenix-area’s business community, she is director of communication at New West Energy, a subsidiary of SRP. Building Your Career Portfolio is available at local Borders Bookstores, Barnes & Noble Bookstores, www.careerpress.com, www.amazon.com, and www.b&n.com. For speaking and workshop information, contact Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org.