Volunteering Catapults You & Your Career

Are you stuck in your role at work? Are you missing opportunities to get that promotion? Are you not viewed as a leader yet? Your answer could be as simple as volunteering. Every time I volunteer, it helps me build my network and further my career. It has also made me better and more informed as a leader and community member. Let me share a few examples.

In 1987-1988, a mid-level leader asked me to coach basketball with him, as his daughters were on the team. After declining a couple times, I finally agreed (after someone else encouraged me to do it). Our results with these middle school girls helped change their lives; they won more games during those two years than they ever had in the past. Many of the girls said that winning improved their confidence levels. As for my takeaway, the mid-level leader I coached with became a senior executive a few years later and was a strong supporter of mine during my entire career.

In 1993, a senior executive asked me to help manage the United Way (UW) of Middle Tennessee campaign for our financial services company. This was my first experience working with a national non-profit organization and it was also the first time a campaign had been run at this Company. We accomplished a spike in giving to United Way by our employees and leaders, and they also became involved in additional volunteer opportunities. UW of Middle TN recognized our Company for being an outstanding first time campaign. My takeaway? The senior executive who asked me to run the campaign became one of my biggest and longest supporters in the Company.

In 2000 I lost my battle with ulcerative colitis. I began walking to raise money for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). I quickly realized that walking actually helped me feel better physically. I also noticed that as I asked people to donate to CCFA, it gave me the opportunity to refine my message, i.e. “why am I involved in CCFA”. This helped me when I spoke to all size groups. Within a few years, speaking became a strength for me. When I launched my own non-profit and scholarship fund (Can Do 4:13 Scholarship & Mentoring Program), the practice I received with CCFA gave me the confidence to state my goals for Can Do, including why I created the program, and why people should donate. I utilized these same skills as I articulated business plans and marketing strategies as a senior leader in my Company.

Because of my work with CCFA and Can Do, a fast moving leader (who also was a previous boss) asked me to replace him as a Board Member at the Community Foundation of Central Illinois in 2005. This was a huge step for me, as I had never been on a Board. The role had fiduciary responsibility, as well as being more aware of what was going on in the community because we selected grants to distribute. The experience helped me improve my financial business acumen, clarify my values, and refine my message on my passions. Fast forward to 2010; guess who my new boss was? That same leader who recommended me for the Board position.

Volunteering and continually being nudged along by key influencers definitely helped my career. More important than my career, it helped me become a better, more informed and caring woman. So what’s getting in your way of volunteering? Are you a woman in leadership or an emerging leader? If you want to build your network, increase sales or make a difference, pick a volunteer opportunity that you are passionate about, or have a leader/colleague/friend gently nudge you along. It just might catapult you and your career to new heights.

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