Nonprofit Volunteering: Learning How to Self-Promote

In the next few installments of this column, I am going discuss some of the skills I believe can be gained through nonprofit work outside of your day-to-day job. Today, I want to share with you how my nonprofit work taught me the art of self-promotion.

I was once on a panel about serving on a nonprofit board and the moderator asked me about the skills that I had learned from my service. One of the first things that came to mind was that I had learned a lot about how to promote myself, through promoting my nonprofit.

Let’s take a step back. We all know that we need to be good at promoting ourselves, right? And it is often suggested that women are not good at self-promotion even though it is critical to our success in the workplace. We know we must have an “elevator pitch.” We know we must be able to talk about our accomplishments. We recognize we must know how to “sell.”

For some of us this may come easily. But for many of us, we struggle. And one reason we struggle is that we just haven’t been trained to talk about our accomplishments or make an elevator pitch. Doing so makes us uncomfortable. We don’t think we are good at it or we think we will sound conceited. Self-promotion is an art, but often we feel unsure about where to learn it.

Advocating for a nonprofit can help you develop valuable skills.

When I joined the board of directors of GirlVentures, I was just starting my own business. Being out on my own for the first time, I was struggling with how to best market myself. For me, marketing myself was very personal and challenging. (I am not the only person who struggles with this, read Alison Monahan’s frank post on this issue.)

Well, it turns out that the way I learned how to market myself was by learning how to market something I care deeply about.

One of the responsibilities of serving on a board of directors is to fundraise. In addition, a board member is often asked to represent the organization at functions or to introduce new folks to the organization. That means you need to “sell” the organization and be able to talk about how fabulous it is. You need to develop an elevator pitch to get new funders or volunteers interested in getting involved. After practicing quite a few times, my GirlVentures’ elevator pitch was getting pretty good. We even had guest speakers come to a few of our meetings to work with the board members on an elevator pitch. I heard talks on how to ask for money without feeling awkward and on how to connect with others to get them interested in what you were working on. This training gave me the skills to go out and talk about my love of GirlVentures and to ignite excitement in others.

Then in dawned on me, why wasn’t I “selling” or “marketing” myself with the same passion and excitement that I was marketing this nonprofit? 

I started to take the skills I had learned at my board trainings and apply them to my own work. Just as I had campaigned as a board member that GirlVentures needed to market itself better, I looked to my own business and challenged myself to do likewise. I took the advice I had heard from high-level executives on the board about how they made their “pitch” and then applied it to my own business.

And it worked! All of a sudden I found it easier to promote my own professional worth to those who would listen. I was able to talk about my own accomplishments with the same ease that I spoke about my work with the nonprofit. I could get folks excited about my own work in the same way that I got people excited about GirlVentures.

Promoting my nonprofit gave me a safe way to work on skills relating to marketing myself—to develop an elevator pitch and speak with enthusiasm about what I do. I am sure I could have learned these skills in another forum, but in this forum I was gaining valuable professional skills as well as helping an organization I was passionate about, one that was doing great things for the community. Really, who could ask for anything more!

So get out there and volunteer! Work on the art of promotion and then take those new found skills to promote yourself inside and outside the workplace.

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