This afternoon, I took part in an STC panel discussion about volunteering — how to volunteer, where opportunities exist, and so on. (A recording of the webinar will be made available; once it is, I’ll post a link to it.)
Those of you who know me well know how involved I’ve been with volunteering. To name a few, I’ve spoken for SQL Saturday and Data Saturday conferences. I’m part of the leadership team for my local SQL user group. I’m a section leader, board member, and secretary for the symphonic concert band in which I play. I play the piano for a local church. I even serve as a mentor for my fraternity and my alma mater. I lend my talents to a wide variety of groups and organizations, and it’s among some of the most rewarding endeavors in which I take part.
Why volunteer? You rarely, if ever, get paid for doing volunteer work, after all. Well, at least you don’t get paid with money. That said, you get paid in a number of ways that don’t directly involve money.
Let’s start with the satisfaction that you’ve gotten something done. I take part in a number of activities. All of these activities need behind-the-scenes work to keep them viable. Who’s going to do the work? After all, most of these positions are not paid, full-time opportunities, and tasks have to be done, including (but not limited to) organizing meetings, finding meeting or event space, scheduling, publicizing events, taking care of participants, paying any necessary bills or fees, and so on. Someone has to do the work. More often than not, that work is performed by volunteers.
Do you want to learn something new, or gain a new skill? Volunteering is a great way to do it. These groups all need tasks to be done, and volunteering is a relatively low-risk way to get experience with those tasks. It becomes a win-win for everyone; you gain new experience, and a group gets their tasks done.
That said, keep in mind that once you take on a task, you also take on a responsibility. Groups look to make sure work is performed, and once you volunteer to do that work, they are counting on you to make sure it gets done. Even if you’re not getting paid to perform the work, any volunteer opportunity should be treated with the same responsibility and respect as a job.
As with any job, you might struggle if you’ve never done it before or are unsure as to what to do. Treat it as you would any job. Use resources at your disposal (e.g. the internet) to get it done. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling. And don’t be afraid to say no. Volunteering should be a rewarding, even fun, experience. If you find that you’re frustrated or overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to either turn down the opportunity or pass it off to someone who can get it done. It isn’t worth the stress.
I mentioned above that volunteers don’t get directly paid with money. Indirectly, however, is another story! If you’re looking for work experience, volunteer work looks great on a resume! Maybe you built and maintained a group’s website, managed their finances, taught constituents, organized events, or served as an officer. Even if you weren’t paid to do them, it counts as work experience, which is something that appeals to potential employers.
And if you’re looking to meet people and expand your network, volunteering is a great way to do it. By volunteering, you interact with people in whatever activities you’re involved, which expands your network. Speaking personally, I’ve met many people and made many friends from my involvement with SQL Saturday and other related opportunities. This involvement has helped me to grow, both professionally and personally.
Additionally, when you work with others, you learn people skills, including teamwork, collaboration, communication, delegating tasks, leadership, and so on. And if you feel any trepidation about your skill sets, these people skills might just improve your confidence as well.
So if you’re looking to learn new things, gain more experience, and make new friends, consider volunteering. The rewards you reap can be life-changing.