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How to expand your professional network with volunteering

Besides the feel good factor, volunteering can provide you with so many opportunities that are often overlooked. We have a habit of just associating volunteering with giving (to the community or a worthy cause) and rarely think of it as an opportunity to gain new skills and experience. Volunteering also offers you a chance to truly expand your network of charity professionals and get to know people who you may never have met. Now that you’ve decided to dedicate your time to a cause that you care about, it’s time to make the most of the experience with these tips.

Why start volunteering?

Achieve beyond work

Volunteering is far from easy. It presents its own set of demands and challenges that you can be proud of overcoming. You’ll be able to work on bringing out the very best in yourself and feel the satisfaction of truly making a difference to the lives of others.

Get closer to the cause

Whether you’re working in the charity sector or trying to transition into it, volunteering for an organisation allows you to get more involved with a cause that you’re passionate about. All charities are striving to create a world where they no longer need to exist by tackling some of the most difficult issues. As a volunteer, you can be a part of the change an organisation is trying to create and gain a greater understanding of the impact you’re having on the world.

New skills and experience

Volunteering presents you with opportunities to learn new skills, gain insight into a huge variety of different types of organisations and fields of work, and gain experience in areas you may not have considered before.  

Why should you make an effort to network?

For future goals and ambitions

Networking can be a means to work towards any future career goals that you have in mind. If you’re considering moving from one area of the charity sector to another, it’s crucial that you understand how that area operates. Volunteering also offers you an opportunity to get first-hand experience in an area that interests you. Giving you the additional exposure to the people and the work environment that you could be a part of in the future. 

To learn more

‘If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.’ - Confucius

You can never learn too much. The charity sector is constantly evolving and in order to adapt to the changes, you have to be one step ahead. Networking with other professionals who have a diverse range of skills and experience puts you in the perfect position to learn from those who know more than you do.

To share or benefit others

As well as learning from others, you can use networking to share your own knowledge and experiences so people can learn from you. You’re an expert in what you do and can use your networks to do ‘skills’ or ‘knowledge sharing’ – swapping your top tips with someone else’s.

How you can start networking effectively

1

Lead with your story, not your history

Our overlapping values and interests allow us to form strong relationships with the people that we work with. So, instead of starting a conversation by listing where you’ve worked in the past, explain why you decided to volunteer, what inspires you to continue working in the charity sector and the impact you would like to have on the world.

2

Create meaningful connections

As a volunteer, you have the freedom to move around an organisation and donate your time to the departments that could really benefit from your skills. Giving you the space to reach out and connect with a number of people (which may include a few key decision makers).
Don’t be idle. Use this time to introduce yourself, learn from the organisations leaders and start developing long term relationships that you can turn to at a later stage in your career.

3

Remember to listen

While you’re volunteering, you’ll have an opportunity to meet plenty of people in an organisation. It’s important to remember that everyone you meet has something valuable to teach you. So, even if you’re a digital marketer there is plenty that you can learn from a volunteer coordinator or fundraising manager. Don’t pigeon hole the people around you. Keep an open mind and be prepared to listen.

Building relationships with other charity professionals should lead to more than an exchange of business cards or adding each other on LinkedIn. You need to make a conscious effort to keep the conversation going by staying in touch with them. Whatever you do, don’t let the flame die down by failing to pick up where you left off.
Why not stay connected by organising a meet up so that volunteers, both old and new recruits, can come together regularly.

Further information

Here are some places you may like to try online networking:

 

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Page last edited Mar 02, 2017 History

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