You revamped your resume and posted it on every job board imaginable. You email an application to employers every day hoping for a response. You’re pounding the pavement, attending networking events, and asking colleagues for LinkedIn recommendations. Yet, you haven’t been able to get face time with the employers at the top of your list.
It might be time to use the one, surefire way to get invited into the nonprofit of your dreams, and welcomed with open arms: Volunteer.
Having worked in some of the largest nonprofit organizations in the world, I can tell you from first-hand experience that many in the employee ranks start in the corps of volunteers. As a matter of fact, most of the C-Suite executives I worked with were formerly leadership-level volunteers or board members.
Being able to say you’ve volunteered for the organization gives you an automatic advantage with the hiring manager, because they know you already believe in the mission and have some understanding of the organization’s inner workings. It also makes a great conversation-starter for anyone who works there, immediately endearing you to them. In addition, many roles you’re applying for may require interacting with volunteers, and having been on the volunteer side of the equation will make developing those crucial relationships much easier.
As a volunteer, you also get inside access to the organization. Many nonprofits bring in volunteers simply to get things done when they don’t have the manpower. That means you could get to demonstrate the very skills they’re looking to hire for, and there is no better way to prove those skills—not in an interview, not in a site visit, and certainly not in a resume—than doing the work itself. In addition, organizations often give volunteers access to the company intranet, meaning that you will have the same early access to job postings that employees get.
Volunteering really can give you the advantages you need to get the job you want. So how do you get started?
Begin at the website of any organization you love, and see what they say about the process for volunteering. The quickest way is to pull up your favorite search engine and type in the organization’s name with the word “volunteer.” Most will have a dedicated page on the topic, like these:
Alternately, you can check out a range of local volunteer opportunities at once on a site like www.volunteermatch.com or www.pointsoflight.org.
Keep in mind that filling out the form on a website may not get you a volunteer assignment right away. This is one of those occasions where you might be better off calling the local office, or even visiting it in person—especially in the case of smaller operations. It may feel like you are showing up uninvited, but remember that you are offering your time and skills for free, and that it’s often a struggle for organizations to find the right volunteers. Present yourself as helpful and flexible, and you’ll be treated like gold. It’s quite possible, in fact, that you could be the answer to each other other’s prayers.
Danny Bu is marketing director for Work For Good.
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