How Volunteering can help you land that next job

I know many of you have heard this song before about how volunteering can help you find your next job.  I even contributed to an article in the Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money Careers area last April that talked about how it can be done.  What I want to do today is share how this worked for me personally at an earlier part of my career.  I’ll try to be as factual and honest as I can.

In 1990 I was living in town of Springfield, TN, about 30 minutes directly north of downtown Nashville, TN.  At that time I was the manager of quality for a Japanese-American automotive supplier and life was good.  During that same time I became a volunteer for the local chamber of commerce and our committee was given two tasks.  One was to investigate how to build a public golf course and the other was to learn how we could bring the YMCA   to the community.  I don’t think anyone within this organization thought that either of these tasks could ever be done.  What was so ironic is that both projects came to fruition in the same month in 1996.  That is another story for another post, but what I will talk about today is how my work with one of these two tasks led me to leave the manufacturing world and enter the non-profit world with the YMCA.

Our committee took on these two tasks and I quickly got engrossed and enthralled with the YMCA.  I had never been in a YMCA in my life, let alone belong to one, so this was all new ground to me.  Our sub-committee of three started making calls and gathering data and before long we raised $10,000 to convene a study to learn about the prospects for success a Y could have in Springfield.  The results of the study surprised everyone and the Y in Nashville chose to give our group a charter and start to provide services from the closest location on the north side of Nashville. 

During this period of investigation I became the focal point and leader of the YMCA effort.  Before long people started talking about what it would be like to build our own YMCA and the staff in Nashville asked me if I would be interested in crossing the line from volunteer to paid staff member.  The journey to this point had been just over three years, starting with a phone call and lunch with the president of the Middle Tennessee YMCA in 1990 to the formation of our first local board of directors in 1994 and the launching of a capital campaign to raise $1.5 million dollars.  What I have not mentioned to this point is that I was also working full time, first with the Japanese and they with the Y, attending class every other weekend at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University   and also maintaining a home life with a wonderful wife and two young sons.  I did sleep occasionally. 

Enough about me; here’s the point.  I made the successful transition from volunteer to staff member because of a few key issues.  Those issues are:

  • focus
  • perseverance
  • mission
  • convergence of interest and vocation
  • challenge

I learned so many things about myself during that period and the years that followed with the YMCA until 2001 were some of the best and most formative of my career.

It is entirely possible for almost anyone to transform from volunteer to paid staff member if they REALLY want to.  Look at the five areas I listed and understand that it is not a “quick fix” to do this.  There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this effort and not every day was a sunny one.

My journey is but one way that volunteering can help you find a job.  My next post will talk more about how many others have gained and grown from the volunteer stints.