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How to Get a Job - Volunteer for a Nonprofit

Updated on January 30, 2013

Nonprofits can't exist without volunteers


Volunteering - A Serious Way to Find a Job

The purpose of this article is to help you, or a friend of yours, to get a job. If, as a result of this article, some nonprofit organizations get needed volunteers, that's a good thing. But again, my purpose is to help you get a job. I know what you're thinking: "Oh, great, I've been unemployed for months and this bozo writes and article about how to get work - without pay." I understand your skepticism. Please read on.

Being unemployed sucks. If you are unemployed I don't have to explain that to you. You know it, you feel it, you live it every day. You want a job, you need the money, but so far you have been hitting your head up against the proverbial brick wall. What few bucks you have goes largely to envelopes, stationery and postage for yet another wave of resume mailing. You look at the phone; it doesn't ring. You check your incoming mail - nothing but ads and bills. You may have become a member of that sad statistical cohort of people who have just given up. They gobble up savings, sell off assets on Ebay and bring in some income through odd jobs.

The Problems of Being Unemployed and How Nonprofit Volunteering Solves Them

Being unemployed brings with it a host of factors, almost all of them bad. But each and every one of these bad factors can be cured by volunteering. Each and every one. Your mission is how to get a job. Volunteering can be mission critical to help you find a job.

Your mental attitude. You may be depressed, or, if you have a naturally positive disposition, you at least feel discouraged. You wake up in the morning, perhaps late, and scour the want ads in the newspaper or online. You have a Craigslist app on your smart phone and worry that you are becoming an obsessive-compulsive because you check it so often. When you had a job you had an endless checklist of things to do. Now your to-do list is filled with stuff like: take out garbage; go to post office; do grocery shopping; mail out some more resumes. You get the picture. You were once focused on getting a job done and forwarding your career. You are now like a rudderless boat. If you could only get a job.

The Nonprofit Volunteering Solution - Get out of the house. Every day you have a purpose; to get a job done. If you throw yourself into your volunteer "job" a major bad factor of unemployment disappears. Your day has a purpose, and your to-do list is now meaningful and filled with goals.

Network with a purpose


Networking isn't working. We are a nation of networkers, and that's not a bad thing. We go to all sorts of events and meetings and get to meet some great people, some of whom wind up doing business with us. Anyone who has any advice for getting a job stresses, rightly so, the importance of networking. Get out there and meet people and good things will happen. Well maybe. Without a job you're carrying your feelings of negativity with you. Everybody at a networking event has a reason to be there. Yours is to find a job, but that fact alone makes a networking event a stressful one. It's a challenge to be outwardly positive when your gut tells you otherwise. So you go to every networking meeting you can, but you're beginning to dread them. You fear that you really have nothing to say. If you introduce yourself to someone at the meeting and flat out ask for a job, you may be rejected on the spot. Unless you are a sociopath, rejection hurts. It reinforces your feelings of negativity.

- You have something to network about. When you attend a networking event as a volunteer for a nonprofit, your purpose is to forward the goals of the organization, or at least it should be your purpose. You are there to represent the XYZ Museum and you have become an expert in its operations. You have a name badge that identifies you and the organization. When you have a conversation with someone you come across as a real player with a real purpose, not just a business card collector. You have the opportunity to show people who you are as a person. You will say things like: "Oh, you run a financial planning company. You should know that the museum encourages organizations like yours to take advantage of our beautiful facility by having business meetings in our main gallery." Look what you've done. You bring in traffic to the museum, always a priority for a location-specific nonprofit like this. Some of the visitors may become members, and perhaps substantial contributors. You have also given this company the chance to have a business meeting in a new and exciting venue. And finally, but most important, YOU are now the go-to guy for the upcoming event. You're making things happen. You are moving and shaking - and you are getting to know people and they you. A key to networking is having an effective elevator pitch. You should have on for both your organization and yourself.

Your Identity. Philosophers, psychologists and diverse self-help gurus will tell you that your identity, the identity that you see in your own mind, should not be shackled to who you really are. But I'm not talking about how you perceive yourself in your heart and soul. I'm talking about the practical day-to-day perception others have of you., which, rightly or wrongly, is at least partially linked to one's occupation.

The Nonprofit Volunteering Solution - You have a (partial) new identity. You don't want to be known as "Joe, the guy who's still looking for a job. "Better to be known as "Joe the guy who manages meetings for the XYZ Museum." When you bump into friends they won't ask "How's the job search going." They'll ask "How's everything at the Museum."

How to Put This Together and Make It Happen

If I've convinced you that volunteering for a nonprofit can be a good way to find a job, great. But let's look at some specific factors to consider before you begin.

First you need to find the right nonprofit. Consider your approach with all of the attention you would give to a business plan. You can volunteer at a soup kitchen or read to autistic children. These are good things and I applaud you if you do this. But we're talking about volunteering as a path to getting a paying job, so let's be squirrely eyed here and focus on organizations that you can serve, but can serve you as well. It's easy to find nonprofit meetings. You probably know a lot of local nonprofits just from your general knowledge and friendships. Beyond that, all you have to do is scour the local newspapers for meetings and events, and check off the ones that you think may be a right fit for you. You should absolutely look for organizations for which you have a passion, or for which you can generate a passion. Do you love history, community affairs, music, art, literacy, housing for the homeless, helping substance abusers, working with kids, the list goes on and on. Don't just read about the organization, attend a couple of meetings, and by all means, engage people in conversation. If they ask why you are asking questions, tell them that you're thinking of volunteering. You will have their undivided attention.

Find a nonprofit organization that has a large and active public presence. There are some wonderful nonprofits out there that do their work quietly working out of an office. This is not what you're looking for. You want to be in public eye mingling with people. Arts councils, which typically run performing arts programs are an excellent example of a nonprofit that has a big public presence. Museums are another example. A well run museum usually has lots of events, and will invite groups to meet at the facility. Nonprofit organizations, especially ones involved in the arts are vital to a local economy.

You want to participate in the public presence. Let's say, for example, that you have a specific skill such as computer programming or web design. Guess what. The nonprofit manager will ask you for help in those specific areas. So be very up-front with the manager and let them know that you want to volunteer at public events as well. Sometimes a manager running an event will tell the volunteer staff that there are enough volunteers for a certain event. Show up anyway. If asked what you're doing there just say "I wanted to be here in case somebody didn't show up." They will love you for it.

Your title. This is an issue that can vary from group to group. Some nonprofits will not give a volunteer a managerial title, such as Event Supervisor. But try to get the best title you can for your business card and name badge (if they won't pay for business cards for volunteers, spring for the few bucks yourself - Often you can get them for free.) By all means clear this with management. When I was board chairman of a maritime museum we had a volunteer who wanted to be known as the curator, a very specific title which usually requires and advanced degree. He didn't get the title. But absolutely try to get a decent title. The one you don't want is "volunteer." If management asks why you want a title, explain that it will help you to communicate with people. True, and the manager should realize that.

How to become a volunteer? This is the easiest part of all. Unlike a paid position, when you volunteer for a nonprofit your only risk is being hugged and kissed to death. Nonprofits run on volunteers and can't exist without them. Rejection is seldom an issue when volunteering.

Become invaluable. The best career advice anyone can give you is that an employee's job, if the objective is a good career, is to make him or herself an invaluable part of the organization. Approach a volunteer position with this same attitude. Chances are you may be offered a paying position when one becomes available. If you know something about cause marketing you can be invaluable just based on that knowledge alone. And, with cause marketing, you will be in regular contact with companies, large and small.

If you're unemployed the only reason for not volunteering with a nonprofit is, well, there is no reason.

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Copyright © Russell F. Moran


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    • krbalram profile image

      rahul 4 years ago from Bangalore

      It is very depressing to be unemployed,but working voluntarily for non-profit is satisfying for inner self.Voting up and sharing.

    • Robert Erich profile image

      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      This is true. I have known multiple people who have volunteered their way into a full time job - either with the organization they were volunteering with or another one. It's a win-win. After all, work is more than just for money - why not use your time to make the world a better place?

    • shermanblake profile image

      Blake Sherman 5 years ago from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

      So true. This is a great hub and some good advice. Volunteering might not turn into a paid position, but there you never know what might come of it's good to get out of the house once in awhile.

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      Timely Hub Russell! I' recently looked into volunteering for a non-profit. Unfortunately I can't afford to work for free at the present time. :( I've done some research, and from what I've read, it can take quite a while to parlay a volunteering position into a paying job -- certainly great for people with ample financial resources and time.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Laure it's always a question of finding the right fit, just as with a job. Thanks for your comment.

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      I've done lots of volunteering, officially and unofficially. Some places are not very organized, that makes it difficult to schedule it in for me.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Great.Just find the organization that's right for you.

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      This is very helpful and quite possibly the push I needed. I've been considering volunteering but, as you suggest, I want to find the right fit. Thanks for the great advice. Useful & Up -K

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks Christine

    • Christine Miranda profile image

      Christine Miranda 5 years ago from My office.

      Great hub. Just having a reason to get out of the house can be a huge mood lifter when your unemployeed. Voted up & more.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for you comments and for letting all of us know about your actual experience.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 5 years ago

      Voted up and useful! This is very true. I volunteer and have for many years. From time to time, paying opportunities have been offered and I was not looking. If I was there are definitely opportunities!