Don’t just run the event; volunteer!

Do you volunteer? I suspect that most of you do. Perhaps with your child’s school or recreational activity; perhaps you give time to a cause whose mission touches your soul. If you have been employed by a non-profit like I have, you probably have given a significant amount of time to your employer. Regardless of how you invest your time in your community, I’m sure we can all agree that when we do, we get an enormous return on that investment.

The origins of my volunteer service date back to when I was a Brownie Girl Scout. Plus I went to Catholic School where “service” was part of the curriculum. My parents were also involved politically and I volunteered for more campaigns by the time I was 12 than most people do in a lifetime. Aside from learning about the virtues of giving of oneself to help others, I was also, without knowing it, planning for my career. I learned through many of these early experiences how to conduct a fundraising campaign and, most useful, how to run a successful event. I still volunteer and I still see my volunteer work as a way to learn and grow both personally and professionally.

Beyond being helpful to a meaningful cause, volunteerism can, and should, be done strategically. As special events director for Bergen County’s United Way in 1998, I was tasked with co-organizing a golf-outing; something with which I had absolutely no experience beyond occasionally watching the PGA on television. I had a friend who was organizing two golf outings, so I signed up to help him out as a volunteer. And of course it helped the organization holding the event as I filled a much-needed staffing void without adding an expense. Special event directors should always be looking for other events at which to give their time. What a great opportunity to learn some thing new…or maybe just a better way of doing something you already do.

Corporations have known for a long time that employee volunteerism helps build teams, creates camaraderie, and generally makes employees feel better about their employer. The same holds true for schools and clubs. My running club volunteered for the New York City Marathon last November. Aside from the amazing experience of being involved in such a huge, spectacular event, the collective volunteer time brought us closer together. If you’re a runner, you should be volunteering at races occasionally, too. It’s of course important to support the running community in this way, but it is also a way to learn about parts of the race you don’t see when you’re running the course. You begin to understand the experiences of race participants that run at a different pace than you.

My advice to anyone looking for a job, looking to switch gears in their career, or just looking to tackle a new project, is to volunteer. When you’re out of work, fill the time by doing something meaningful that helps broaden your skills. I interviewed a candidate for a job once and asked what he had been doing with his time in the six months since losing his last job. He response? “Catching up on Netflix.” Wrong answer and not what you should be doing.

Some places to start your search for volunteer opportunities:

IMG_2461New York City Marathon. Sun setting on Mile 21 Water Stop. November 2015.

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