The fact is: Even if voluntary work is not paid, you gain valuable practical and personal skills that are also useful in professional life. Depending on how intensively you do your voluntary work, you may also take on very varied, responsible, and demanding tasks. People who, for example, hold a position on the board of directors, in particular, know: This is far more than just recreational enjoyment, but also real work – almost an unpaid part-time job.
Also, voluntary work shows that you are a committed and enthusiastic personality who thinks outside the box, actively tackles social challenges and acts according to your own values. Such people are also highly valued by good employers.
Nevertheless, when specifying voluntary activities in the application, a sure instinct is required: Because under no circumstances should the impression arise that you are only trying to hide the lack of “real” work experience or that you are randomly filling your résumé with “stopgap” which no real added value can be seen.
We at Impactify are specialists when it comes to sustainable jobs with meaning and social added value. We have put together six strategies for you on how you can shape your volunteer work so that it doesn’t have the best effect only for the ideal purpose, but also for your personal development.
The first and most important aspect of volunteering should be your inner conviction for the cause – regardless of whether you are rescuing turtle babies in Costa Rica as part of a volunteering trip, organizing a nationwide climate protection demonstration, or regularly serving as a mentor in your neighborhood, get involved with socially disadvantaged children. Soulless CV optimization should never be the sole motivation. Pick a project that is really close to your heart and an organization where your involvement is also fun.
If your volunteer projects coincidentally overlap thematically and professionally with your desired professional field, this is of course a very special icing on the cake for a later application – but practical experience in project organization is in great demand in almost all professional fields, regardless of the specific topic. Quite apart from the fact that soft skills such as enthusiasm, persuasiveness and communication skills, which are strengthened by volunteering, will help you enormously in really every job.
And if there is one thing HR managers immediately feel and perceive positively, then it is real, authentic enthusiasm and conviction for your heart issue.
Find your task area
Once you have found a suitable organization, it is advisable to first contact a regional group in your area and get to know the other active members personally. The nice thing is that you will meet people here who share values similar to yours, to whom similar topics are important, and who really want to make a difference together.
As a rule, you will be integrated into the group very quickly as a new interested party, and – provided you contribute actively and regularly – you can quickly take on very responsible tasks if you want. Therefore, communicate from the start how much time you would like to invest in your voluntary work and which areas of activity you are interested in. In addition to the actual thematic work, this could be, for example, member acquisition, public relations, event organization, or finances. No matter how you contribute: Helping hands are always in demand in the non-profit sector!
You have the choice of whether you want to expand your existing theoretical knowledge in practice or try out completely new tasks and broaden your horizons: Here you have the perfect opportunity because in clubs there are no rigid hierarchies and no strict division of tasks. Unfortunately, it often looks very different in professional life.
Build a supporting network
This recommendation always applies. Regardless of whether you are attending specialist conferences, seminars, job fairs, doing an internship, or doing a voluntary job: A personal, supportive network is extremely valuable.
It’s not about collecting business cards or evaluating every person you meet according to their usefulness, but about authentic interest in the other person and exchange on an equal footing. Also, ask yourself what skills and knowledge you can use to support others.
In the voluntary environment, you will meet many like-minded people who will be happy to support you – e.g., in your job search. After all, these people are also networked in different circles (e.g., in other organizations, companies, municipal authorities) and can give you tips and recommendations, for example, if a position becomes vacant at an interesting employer and, if necessary, provide you with an internal contact person. So don’t be afraid to speak openly about it in your network or to contact certain people specifically if you are looking for a job and are currently looking for inspiration or recommendations. In the case of an application, you can then refer to your contact person if necessary.
Have your commitment proven
For voluntary activities, it is also advisable to have your commitment proven by an official document that you attach to your application documents. After all, your future employer doesn’t know you yet and so you create credibility and trust right from the start.
In this case, of course, this should not be a reference and does not have to contain an evaluation. However, the document should show the mission of the association, the period of your engagement, your responsibilities in the project or official positions as well as areas of responsibility or events in which you have supported and participated. Many (larger) organizations also offer their active participants advanced training courses or trainer certificates (e.g., workshop moderation, intercultural skills, etc.) – these can be extremely valuable and should definitely be listed.
The document should be signed by a member of the board of directors or management and have the official logo or contact details of the organization.
Present voluntary work convincingly in your CV
If you would like to state your voluntary position in an application, the challenge is to be able to name the specific added value that your commitment has created not only for your personal and professional development but also for the organization itself – and, of course, to establish the connection to the position for which you are applying.
In addition to a specific description of your areas of responsibility, it is very advantageous if you can also state successes and goals achieved. In principle, very similar rules apply to the presentation of voluntary activities as to full-time positions: The name of the association, the period of your commitment and, in a few brief bullet points, your specific tasks, activities and, if applicable, official positions (e.g., member of the board of directors) apply to the presentation of voluntary activities, head of the working group member acquisition, cash auditor, etc. The best way to do this is to create a separate section on your résumé with the heading “Volunteering”. You can then go into more detail about special projects and successes in the cover letter to underline certain competencies with practical examples.
An example: You are involved in a local association that promotes intercultural exchange, and you are responsible for fundraising here. In your application you could, for example, state how donations can be increased and new club members can be won with the help of a neighborhood flea market that you have organized.
What should definitely be mentioned in the cover letter is your very personal motivation to get involved in this particular organization or for this particular topic (animal welfare, educational justice, climate protection, etc.). Here you show yourself to the employer not only as a smooth sequence of professional stations but as a reflected and committed personality.
Create your own (paid) job
Create your own, tailor-made job: Sounds cool? It is. How does it work? In the non-profit sector, many activities are not only financed through donations but also largely through state or private funding (e.g., from foundations). Funding for full-time, i.e., paid employees can often be requested within the framework of the funding applications.
Note that such full-time positions in a non-profit organization are usually project-related, i.e., limited in time. Besides, part-time rather than full-time positions may be approved. The salaries in the non-profit sector are also generally lower than in the free market economy. But in return, you get paid for an activity that you previously did voluntarily and unpaid – because it gave you pleasure and felt meaningful. Here everyone has to decide for themselves what is more important.