Nonprofit Volunteering — An Opportunity to Stretch and Grow

A few posts back, I wrote about how nonprofit work can give you the opportunity to learn self-promotion, which for me was an opportunity to stretch and grow. However, I think that nonprofit work can present many opportunities — to grow as a professional, as a person (are they separate things?), and in a safe, collaborative environment. And, you just might help your community while you are at it!

Asking for Help

Sometimes we forget this, but throughout your career you are going to need to ask for help. I have talked about how important it is to ask for help when you are networking and on the job hunt. Alison Monahan talked about how we had to ask for help when planning our Catapult 2013 Conference (and it wasn’t always easy). The takeaway here is that at many different points on your career trajectory, you are going to need to ask for help. 

Asking for help isn’t easy for many of us. We worry that it will be a sign of weakness or that people will think poorly of us. Or perhaps we just forget that we need to do it! Regardless, when you are working with a nonprofit, either planning an event, soliciting donations, or recruiting for a walk-a-thon, you are going to need to ask for help and support. And the more you do it, the easier it gets!

Asking for Money

The same thing goes for asking for money. The one thing most people seem to hate to do is to ask other people for money. I have been in trainings and lectures on fundraising and have noticed that even folks who are there because they have committed to fundraising still struggle with this. Is this something you struggle with? If so, you may want to work on this skill, and fundraising for a nonprofit can help you get better at it. 

Perhaps your job won’t require it, but it is likely that at some point you will need to “sell” or “ask for money” in your professional career. You will need to pitch to a new client or talk about how great your firm is and why people should invest in you or choose you for representation. This can be very uncomfortable. But it shouldn’t be, in my opinion. It is just a skill like anything else. And skills need to be practiced. Should you work on this skill only in your professional life? I would suggest not! It is much easier to ask for money to help an organization you believe in versus trying to pitch business (at least I think this is true for most of us). So, you can hone these skills by fundraising for a nonprofit and then take the lessons learned and apply them to your professional life. It is a win-win!

Getting Feedback from People Other than Your Supervisor

Getting feedback is an important part of becoming your best self professionally. Sure, you are going to get feedback from your supervisors and professional mentors. But wouldn’t it be nice to get feedback from someone else, outside of your professional life?

Depending on your volunteer role, you can solicit specific feedback about yourself and your skills from a different perspective. That feedback may highlight for you areas that you didn’t realize you had strength in or identify growth areas for you. If you volunteer with a legal nonprofit, this additional feedback can directly translate to your day-to-day job. If you are volunteering outside of the legal marketplace (something that I clearly think has great value as evidenced by my work with GirlVentures), this feedback can be invaluable because you are acting in roles outside of your everyday professional life, such as leadership and management roles. This, in turn, will only make you more qualified and prepared when leadership opportunities present themselves in the workplace.

And remember, along with valuable feedback, nonprofit volunteering can also be a great way to meet mentors!

Experimenting and Trying New Things

In your role as a law student or attorney, it is often difficult to try new things. Perhaps the job doesn’t really allow for it or you don’t want to risk being less than awesome at whatever role or activity you are considering. A volunteer environment is a great opportunity to try new things and experiment. Perhaps you want to see if you like managing people. There is a volunteer role for that! Or maybe you want to see if you are interested in a different area of law. There is a volunteer role for that! What if you want to explore something completely non-law related. Hey, I bet there is a volunteer role for that, too. Basically, volunteering can give you a safe place to try new things. Those experiences may help you identify other areas of interest, discover skills you didn’t know you had, or even help you make smart career choices further down the line. And who knows, you may even decide that your nonprofit volunteer work should really become your full time work!

Many of us like to volunteer because we believe it is important to give back to our communities. But you can use the opportunity to give back to gain valuable skills and receive feedback that will only benefit your career in the long run.

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