Consider your personal human capital as an addendum to your net worth when evaluating your overall worth. While your net worth is a good financial measurement, your human capital is a good predictor of how you’ll handle opportunities to grow in the future. In an unsteady economy, those with better developed human capital have an advantage. One way to increase your human capital is to volunteer your time with organizations.
Recently, I wrote about gaining more experience as a way of boosting your human capital, making your skills more valuable to others, particularly potential employers or clients. One reader promptly offered this feedback on growing human capital:
Volunteer work! Most charitable organizations are desperate for volunteers so it’s not incredibly difficult to get yourself in charge of something, even if it’s something small.
The organizations requiring volunteers benefit greatly from passionate individuals who are ready to get to work. Without volunteers, many non-profit organizations, including religious institutions, would never be able to provide services as broadly or as deeply as they’d like. These organizations are usually not businesses that create revenue by selling products to a consumer, and the opportunity to generate income is low. Relying on donations or government support for funding, volunteers play a vital role. The bigger an organization’s the mission, the more volunteers they’ll need to get the work done.
This demand for volunteers creates a great opportunity for those willing to dedicate time to the advancement of a cause. Volunteering is always the most beneficial when you can align yourself with an organization whose mission matches your values.
- If you are religious, your church, synagogue, or mosque could have opportunities for you.
- If you are driven to help find a cure for a disease, there is likely an organization that promotes awareness or raises funds with the intent of helping affected families and encouraging research.
- For those passionate about arts, there are likely several non-profits in your proximity that relate directly to your passion.
- Social issues like poverty are also served by non-profit organizations.
Gain leadership experience
If the boss at your day job undervalues you work and is reluctant to give you more responsibility, you’ll benefit from the opportunities that volunteering might present you. Since demand is high, any organization would value a motivated volunteer ready to help organize other volunteers, run events or manage campaigns. There are always openings for volunteers who are not seeking much responsibility, like those who help direct traffic at an event, but it won’t be difficult for a motivated volunteer to prove himself or herself as someone who can take responsibilities that require more skills.
I had a discussion yesterday with a friend whose husband has been having trouble moving to the next level in his career. The next level would be a management position, and he’s become a victim of the vicious experience cycle: He feels he won’t be hired as a manager without management experience, but he can’t gain management experience until he’s hired as a manager. This is always a tough barrier, but one solution is to volunteer for an organization. In many cases, you can accept leadership positions as a volunteer without having official experience, as long as you are capable and talented.
If you are a successful leader in your work as a volunteer, you can feel safe highlighting this work on your résumé, increasing your chances of receiving an offer for your first leadership position within your company or your career. This is even better if your volunteer work is somewhat related to your vocation.
Increase your confidence
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself more self-confident after volunteering for a cause about which you’re passionate, particularly if you do have a leadership position. A side effect of many organizations’ missions is making a difference in someone’s life, and when you are a part of an organization that makes a difference, regardless of whether you have a leadership role, you feel better about yourself. Self-confidence, like other aspects of your human capital, is difficult to measure. It’s not a skill you can put on your résumé. It is, however, an attitude that permeates what you do, and it’s something that other people, including a hiring manager or a client, can sense.
Expand your network
Cultivating your network of colleagues, acquaintances, and friends is a major contribution to your overall human capital, and I’ll be addressing this in more detail in a following article. Volunteer work often introduces you to people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. This is a great advantage from a business as well as social perspective. By associating with a wide variety of contacts, you’ll begin to see connections between the people you know. It’s easy to see this on social networks where you can chart your circle of friends. As your network expands, you’ll see that people you don’t expect to know each other do, proving the truth of the cliché: “it’s a small world, after all.”
While these connections help understand your friends and colleagues better, broad networks that cross industries and interests can result in your having someone to turn to in a wide variety of situations. If you need advice on starting a business, chances are you know someone who has been through the process of getting her own business off the ground. With a broad network, whether you need a photographer or a plumber, someone in your network can help, either directly or provide a recommendation. Likewise, the bigger your network, the more you’ll be seen as a helpful resource.
Find the right opportunity
The first thing you should consider when planing to volunteer is how much time you can commit. One of the biggest problems that organizations face is a lack of quality volunteers, and by over-promising or making a commitment you can’t keep can increase the difficulty of operations for an organization you’re trying to assist.
Consider your passions. This isn’t your job. Since you’re not being compensated in traditional monetary form for your work, ensure you’re going to enjoy and find meaning in the work that you’ll be doing. The wok itself might not be fun — stuffing envelopes with fundraising mailers comes to mind — but if the organization stands for something you support, the work will feel worthwhile.
Volunteering can be expensive. Look at the costs. If you need to travel 100 miles three days a week just to get to the location where your volunteering takes place, you’ll be spending time to commute and money to travel, neither of which can usually be reimbursed. (Time is never reimbursable; expenses are only reimbursable if your organization happens to be able to afford that luxury.)
Have you ever volunteered for an organization? What were your experiences?
Updated December 14, 2017 and originally published October 19, 2011.