Sometimes, it Pays to Work for Free

Yesterday, I shared Four Things You Can Do TODAY to Help You Find the Work You Love in a Down Economy. They are:

  1. Build Your Personal Network
  2. Volunteer for a Cause or Organization You Care About
  3. Take a Good Look at Yourself
  4. Start that Business You’ve Always Wanted

I mentioned in that post that one of the best ways to change your life, and career, is to volunteer for a cause or organization that you care about.

This is a great strategy for those who are unemployed or under-employed, because it helps you build your personal network, allows you to immediately use your skills (or learn new ones), helps you to immediately live your passions, and if you’ve been out of work for a long time, gives you a boost in your self-esteem.

And…it just MIGHT lead to a job with the organization you’re serving with.  That has happened to me on four occasions.

The first time happened when I was a university student.  It was my senior year and I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do, after graduation, with my degree in political science.  One day, I read in the newspaper about an organization in our community that had world-wide influence.  It was involved in public policy, economics, and freedom from a religious perspective – all topics that interested me as a student of political science.

I contacted them to ask if they had any internship opportunities.  I came in for an interview and was “hired” to begin working or them once or twice a week.  That was in January.  By April, with graduation approaching, they offered me a full-time position.  The internship was great because it gave both them and me a no-cost, or low-cost (they didn’t pay me a salary, but they did buy my lunch!) opportunity to get to know each other.  And it gave me the opportunity to prove my worth to the organization.

Three years later, while still working for that same organization, I began volunteering once every two weeks with an organization I learned about at church.  This group was involved in crisis intervention for mentally-ill homeless people in our community – people who, through no fault of their own, had “fallen through the cracks” of our community social service system and were living in abandoned buildings, along the railroad tracks, under loading docks and bridges.  After two months of volunteering with this organization every couple of weeks, I felt it was time to make a career move in order to work with them full-time.  This was a huge commitment because I had to raise my own funds in order to work with them.

Three years later, while still working for this organization, I began helping our church develop financial management, job training, counseling, and other programs to help low-income people in the church’s rapidly changing neighborhood.  Eventually, this led to a full-time position at the church.

Seven years later, while still working for the church, I was invited to serve on the board of directors of an organization that was involved in leadership development and economic and community development in indigenous Native communities in the U.S. and Canada.  A few years later, I was hired as the group’s executive director.

Is my situation unique?  Maybe.  But it does illustrates the power of volunteering to help you find the work you love:

  1. It allows the organization to achieve its goals through your experience.
  2. It allows you to make a difference and do what you love.
  3. It opens up doors of opportunity, either directly as in my case, or indirectly by putting you in contact with people who can be on the look-out for the position that is right for you.  This is especially important even if you have no desire to work for a nonprofit organization.  If you want to work in the corporate world, chances are good that the people you need to connect with are involved as volunteers or members at your local community, civic, charitable, and arts organizations.

Has anyone else out there secured a job, either directly or indirectly, through volunteering?  Please share your experience.

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