Positive Returns The Case for Not-for-Profit Volunteerism

By Matt Arrigale

Aug. 18, 2009

If you ask a group of individuals why they started volunteering their time, they’ll often tell you that a desire to give back to their community motivated them. Ask them why they continue to do it, and you’ll hear stories of making a difference not only within the organization and their community, but within themselves.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over a quarter of the U.S. population is active in volunteerism. Almost counterintuitively, married working professionals ages 35 to 44 represent the highest proportion of volunteers. What this group lacks in time, due to personal and professional obligations, they make up for in real-world business experience and skills. These skills can have a profound impact within a not-for-profit.

But the relationship is symbiotic, and many not-for-profit organizations offer outstanding personal and professional growth opportunities. With a barrage of recent state and federal budget cuts and the current global economic crisis, these organizations need more than just monetary donations. They desperately need active board leadership. Agencies are looking for volunteer board members with leadership skills, a strategic mind-set, high integrity and ethics, strong business acumen and some passion for the work of the not-for-profit.

For me, as a global HR executive with a heavy travel schedule and young family, extra time seems to exist only in theory. But from my experience on a not-for-profit’s board of directors, I have already gained more than I will be able to give back in a lifetime:

A network and a sense of community. After a three-year work assignment in Europe, I was somewhat detached from my community. My board position allowed me to make contact with a diverse network of people. In a short time, I have learned so much about my community, its events and the services it offers to its residents.

Skills and professional development. This position has helped me hone my leadership, selling, financial and negotiation skills. In addition, I am afforded the opportunity to drive strategy execution and corporate governance. While it’s true that I already must use these skills in my full-time job, I now have to use them in a completely different industry, organizational culture and context. Thanks to the different culture and context in which not-for-profits operate, board volunteers from the corporate world will find accelerated growth and learning opportunities.

Personal fulfillment and satisfaction. There is really no way to describe the proud feeling you get while witnessing the good work a not-for-profit agency can deliver, especially when you know that you’ve played a role in that delivery. There is no greater feeling than knowing you’ve made a difference. The happiness and motivation from these experiences inevitably spills over to your personal life as well as your “day job.”

It’s true that time is valuable—and limited—but serving on the board of a not-for-profit can yield outstanding results for everyone involved. Many organizations offer their board members flexible schedules to meet their time constraints. Sites like VolunteerMatch can help you find not-for-profit opportunities that would make use of your interests and skills in your town or city.

By giving your time, you benefit your entire community. And you enrich your own life too.

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