Mutual Friends: Why Volunteering is a Worthwhile “Job”

Logging in enough volunteering hours is practically a requirement to get into college, but what happens once you’re on campus? From work-study jobs to weird class schedules to all the social events you’re inevitably attending, volunteering falls off the radar for some students. And while it’s important not to stretch yourself too thin, volunteering can provide significant mutual benefits for college students and the organizations and campaigns they choose to help.

Since many college students lack concrete job experience, volunteering offers them a way to practice working in the real world. Your schedule may be lax, and your responsibilities minimal, but you’re gaining valuable experience working with all types of people, completing projects, and perhaps even managing groups. Through volunteering, you can more easily work your way up to leadership positions and even elected officer positions than if you were working in a part-time job or if you had an internship fetching coffee. Employers are just as impressed with demonstrated leadership experience in non-paying position as they are in a paying one, especially if you’re just in college. Don’t be afraid to speak up and make suggestions or improvements, or to nominate yourself when a leadership opportunity arises.

Volunteering also offers huge networking benefits for students and professionals, so you’ll meet quality contacts through your work. From the people running the organization to other professionals helping out, volunteer projects bring together like-minded individuals who understand the benefits of networking and who make a point to meet new people by becoming actively engaged in supporting the community. The fact that you’ve demonstrated your commitment to a project you’re not getting paid for will give your new contacts a solid, positive first impression that they won’t forget. Make sure that you show up on time, even when call time is early on a weekend morning. Always act professionally and attend meetings when you say that you will, and behave warmly with other volunteers, even if you think you have nothing in common with them. The fact that you’re all helping the same cause is foundation enough for becoming friendly acquaintances.

Whether you volunteer through formal school groups or check out volunteer opportunities on your own, treat the experience like it’s a job: it’s a more laid-back atmosphere, but you’re still expected to honor your commitments and contribute to the group. When you share more of yourself with a volunteer project or nonprofit group, you’ll find that you’re benefitting the experience personally and professionally as well.

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