How Giving Back Pays

Despite the media claiming that the unemployment rate is improving and the economy is bouncing back, most Americans aren’t feeling those effects yet. Entire industries have gotten smaller or received a death blow in the recession, and workers are still looking for a place to belong.

It’s in times like these that people are looking for a leg up on the competition. One way to get it is to volunteer. Volunteers are seen as hard workers who care about the community, which is often a direct route to employment with companies that see themselves in the same vein.

If you’re unemployed, chances are good that you’ll have the time to volunteer. Face it, no matter how badly you want to spend your day actively searching for a job, once the posts on all your local newspapers and career sites have ran out, there’s not much left to do but network. It’s better to volunteer, where you can interact with other people and give back to those even less fortunate than you.

Giving back pays

Once you’ve made the decision to become a concerned citizen, the process of finding somewhere to care may become overwhelming quickly. Many non-profits don’t even have websites. After all, web design wasn’t taught to social work majors in the 1980s. So what do you do when Google isn’t an option? Pick up the phone, of course.

Call your alma mater’s career services department. Not only can you put a bug in their ear about passing on opportunities to you, you can also ask them which non-profits in your area consistently need help. If you’re looking to incorporate your skill set (which you really should be), then ask them what types of positions are available in your area. If you’re pursuing an online education or have graduated a long time ago, go ahead and contact a local school’s career services department by e-mail. You won’t be their priority, but they’ll likely still take the time to help you out.

If that isn’t an option for you, call your local United Way. Talking to someone will give you a sense of which organizations are run well and which ones should be avoided. As callous as it may sound, you’re going to want either someone with a need you can easily fill or an organization with a leader that can appreciate that you’re bringing more skills to the table than a 16 year old. If they’re stuck in their ways and only let volunteers do one or two jobs, it may not the place for you. You’ll be wasting your valuable skills that another non-profit could have used more fully.

You can also find websites that are specifically designed to match a person with a non-profit that fits their interests and skills. Volunteer Match allows searching by a keyword and location. Bloggers and telecommuters may be interested in checking the tiny box that filters results down to only online opportunities. Searching Volunteer Match can also put you in touch with some of the more tech-savvy non-profits that may be more willing to let you run with your talents.

iParticipate is another site that works well with volunteer matching. It delves a little deeper with filters than Volunteer Match and lets you choose from several categories of causes. If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of results, narrow it by filtering by the date it was posted and/or its distance. They’re powered by All for Good, so you’ll find many of the same sites.

However you search for the non-profit that’s right for you, remember that you’re looking for a mutually beneficial relationship. There should be an understanding that you have something more to offer than the average volunteer and that they’re willing use that. If they only want volunteers to pack boxes, look elsewhere. It’s tempting to get caught up in an effort to do good, but you need to be looking out for your resume and your networking potential as well.

Image courtesy of Flickr user: NVCO

About Jesse Langley

Jesse Langley, a resident of Indianapolis, is a freelance writer, a former teacher, avid cook, and a marketing enthusiast. I advise anyone interested in marketing to look into an email marketing campaign to figure out the best path for you.


  1. Lovely post Jesse, I wish more people thought like this.

  2. Hi Jesse, I have to agree with Jade. I also wish more people thought like this.

    Volunteering gives the person a sense of worth, rather than being sat around depressed all day and like you said it can be a door to opportunities.

    Here in the UK if you register as unemployed then they’ll reduce your benefits if you volunteer as you’re not available for work. Isn’t that just stupid?!

    Wouldn’t it be better to encourage volunteer work than reduce benefits for doing so….. and this country wonders why it’s going backwards.


  3. Jesse,

    I bet hardly anybody thinks this way and it’s a shame. Volunteering is a really smart way to make lemonade out of lemons. It is a great way to put a positive spin on unemployment and to also make yourself look that much better when your opportunity to get back in the game presents itself.

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