Looking for a professionally challenging volunteer opportunity? Skills-based volunteering can be a great job search strategy, a way to gain experience and contacts in a new field or update your skills when returning to the workforce after a lengthy break.
The tricky part is finding volunteer opportunities that are relevant to your career goals.
For example, I have a client who’s looking to volunteer as a curriculum developer. Only a few websites work well for finding this kind of opportunity. Many volunteering sites don’t focus on skills at all.
The most useful websites I’ve found for skills-based volunteer opportunities are:
- Idealist.org–Idealist allows you to easily create advanced searches for volunteer roles that fit your skills and geographic criteria, including the option of working remotely. You can save your searches and get notified when there’s a match.
- Craigslist–Click the “volunteer” link in the “community” category.
Beyond websites: networking to find volunteer opportunities.
As with a regular job search, don’t spend more than 25% of your time applying “cold” (without a personal connection) to roles you’ve found online. The best roles are found (or created) through networking and referral. Often, an organization needs help but nobody has gotten around to posting an announcement. That’s where networking can get you in the door.
Make a list of organizations you’d like to volunteer for, and start following them and reaching out to people who might be in any way connected to them. Use your personal and social media networks. Cultivate referrals to managers and seek informational interviews.
Joining a professional association is another great way to make your skills known, spread the word and make contacts. Volunteering for association events is an easy way to build relationship, and working an event is often a great way to attend free or at a reduced cost. Plus, many associations make a point of matching individuals to organizations that need pro bono assistance.
Skills-based volunteering can be a very powerful part of your career development and job search strategy!
This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.