If you're thinking about your next career move and your resume is looking a little lack-lustre, volunteering may be a way to bolster your leadership experience and jazz up your skills set. While the word "volunteering" often brings to mind images of a bustling soup kitchen and unflattering hairnets, volunteering nowadays is much more varied than you may think. With over 12.7 million Canadians volunteering each year, there are many ways to give back to your community while developing your own skills and experience.
So if leadership experience is what you're looking for, here are three volunteer roles that will give you the opportunity to show that you have the ability to be an invaluable leader that anyone would want to be part of their team.
1. Join A Non-Profit Board
There are over 170,000 non-profits in Canada and every one of them has a group of volunteers who guides the organization and provides strategic direction. This group of volunteers is called the Board of Directors and legally every non-profit must have one. While boards differ from organization to organization in terms of size, scope and responsibilities, typically the board will ensure the non-profit is achieving its vision and mission, is financially healthy and operating in an ethical and effective manner.
The board makes decisions as a collective, so not only will you gain great leadership skills from this type of role, but you'll almost certainly improve your teamwork and communication skills. Board members hold such an important role in an organization that typically they are asked to serve a two-year term, so board positions are only suitable for people who are comfortable making a long-term commitment. To find board opportunities in your area, contact your local volunteer centre and enquire about available positions as well as any board governance training you can take before you start applying.
Top tip: Think carefully about which causes you are passionate about before you start looking to join a board. You should be truly committed to an organization's mission if you are to serve on their board.
2. Become A Mentor
The person you are today is probably very different from who you were when you were in your teens. As you've gained experience in your life and career, you'll have inevitably learned many lessons...not to mention all those mistakes you've made along the way too! If you're a patient person, a good listener and have strong interpersonal skills, consider becoming a mentor and sharing your pearls of wisdom with someone younger or less experienced. Look at professional associations and networks in your industry to find people in your area of work to mentor. Alternatively, seek out local youth mentoring programs to be connected to a young person in your area who could do with some guidance. This can be an incredibly rewarding way of helping people with their personal development and achieve their goals.
Top tip: Remember mentoring isn't about you -- it's about supporting your mentees in reaching their goals so be prepared to listen and allow them to find their own answers as they develop.
3. Provide Free Advice as a Pro-Bono Consultant
If you're a great problem solver and have experience in an area that non-profits might find useful, consider using your skills for good by becoming a pro-bono consultant. Non-profits, especially the smaller organizations with few or no paid staff, often require help in many areas such as strategic planning, fundraising, human resources, marketing and communications, leadership development, IT management, event planning, legal matters, financial management and policies and program evaluation. Ideally, you'll work with a non-profit to cometo grips with an issue and suggest recommendations on how they can tackle the problem. To get started, simply reach out to organizations that interest you, explain your professional background and enquire whether they could use your help. Alternatively, look for pro-bono consulting organizations in your area that support non-profits and who will match you with an organization in need of your skillset.
Top tip: Be clear with how much time you have to offer, how you'll set out to solve the issue, what support you'll need from the organization, and what role (if any) you'll play in the implementation of your suggestions. For the experience to work well, both you and the non-profit organization will need to have a clear understanding of what will be involved and what to expect.
These volunteer roles will not only provide you with a meaningful volunteer experience and the opportunity to help a good cause, but will also build your own experience and demonstrate your leadership abilities. Happy volunteering!
Camara Chambers is the Director of Community Engagement at Volunteer Toronto, Canada's largest volunteer centre. With an LLB degree under her belt at the age of 20, she opted for a career in the non-profit sector to use her skills and passions to help community organizations. Camara's areas of expertise are volunteerism, the non-profit sector, community and youth engagement, strategic planning, event management, and program management. When not in the office, Camara is an active volunteer in the community, advising strategy and development for Shape My City (Toronto's network of city building initiatives), assisting in the execution of local community events and leading hikes across southern Ontario.