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Gael Spivak

Using Volunteer Work to Make Yourself More Marketable

Illustration of two people using oversized pencils to cross items off a giant checklist.
Illustration of two people using oversized pencils to cross items off a giant checklist.
Copyright: bilahstudio

I didn’t volunteer with my editing association to get things out of it for myself. But over the years, I noticed that I was getting a lot out of it beyond feeling good about giving back to my community. This post summarizes what I learned so that you can use it to shape your own volunteer experiences more effectively.

Professional development

Volunteering is a great way to get professional development and training. While you do have to spend time doing this, you won’t have to spend money.

And some of it will be even more effective than paying for a course. Consider the 70/20/10 formula for learning:

  • 70 per cent comes from real life and on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving.
  • 20 per cent comes from feedback and from observing and working with role models.
  • 10 per cent comes from formal training.

That formula won’t apply in those percentages to everyone, nor will it apply to all types of tasks. But I learn best by doing something and by talking to and observing more experienced colleagues.

If you want to try something new or risky, volunteering can be a great way to do that. If it doesn’t work out or you don’t like it, you can just leave it behind once you’re done, without having invested a lot of change into your business or your life.

Skills you can learn

You can learn important skills that make you more valuable as an employee or as a freelancer when bidding on certain types of contracts. Some of these skills are hard to get if you’ve worked for years as a sole proprietor, so volunteering is a good investment in skills building.

You can get experience in

  • project management
  • teamwork
  • communications
  • negotiating

Through my volunteer work, I got experience I can’t get at work, such as

  • marketing, including social media
  • strategic planning
  • policy development and policy and procedure writing

All of those things paid off for me because they helped me get my current job. My director at the time specifically said that my volunteer work with Editors Canada contributed substantially to me being selected for my position.

Don’t separate your paid work from your volunteer work on LinkedIn or on your resumé. Experience is experience. This is easier to do if you have a skills-based resumé.

Other things you get out of volunteering

In addition to professional development, there are lots of other things volunteering gives you.

You often get to have some influence over the organization you are volunteering with, such as shaping their values or contributing to decision making. You also get to connect with people, making valuable new contacts and even new friends.

Have a plan

There are questions you should ask yourself so you can approach your volunteering more strategically. This will help you get the most out of it.

Approach it strategically:

  • Do you want to get better at something you know how to do, or do you want to learn something different? 
  • Is there a specific skill set you’re looking to gain or improve?
  • Do you want to do something at the branch level or nationally?

Approach it consciously:

  • How much time do you want to spend? Don’t over-commit.
  • Do you want it to be a project or a one-off? 
  • Are you actually interested in the opportunity?
  • Assess your situation each year to make sure it’s still working for you (thanks to Nicola Aquino, who co-moderates the Editors’ Vine online meetings, for this tip).

Approach it creatively:

  • What are the secondary benefits of the volunteer opportunity? Examples include practicing certain social skills or working with someone you want to get to know better.
  • Do you want to use your editing skills or branch out into other areas?

Learn more

Seminar leader and coach Riça Night has some great resources (scroll down to get the PDFs). Even though many of her ideas are the same as what I’ve said here, I didn’t know about her resources until she recently told me, after I’d given a talk on this topic at an Editors’ Vine meeting.

If you want to volunteer with Editors Canada, contact the director of volunteer relations.

For members, explore the volunteer resources page (and check out Volunteer Connect).

For other opportunities, contact your local volunteer organization.


Previous post from Gael Spivak: Update on the International Plain Language Standard: An Interview with Gael Spivak

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