How volunteering can benefit professional development


There are many avenues to achieve career progression; changing roles, participating in development programmes, or undertaking a secondment.

But what if these options aren’t available to you or if they don’t provide the right development opportunities for your needs; where can you turn in this instance? For more and more people, volunteering is becoming the go-to way to develop new skills.

For some the development of these skills is their primary purpose, whilst for others it is simply a byproduct of wanting to give back to a worthy cause. But regardless of the reasons behind the decision to volunteer, growing numbers of professionals are coming to recognise the benefits it has both professionally and personally. Below we consider what some of these advantages are, and why they are so useful in the professional development context.

It offers a diversity of experiences

While becoming a specialist in a certain field is extremely valuable in the workplace, it cannot be denied that being required to focus on one small area of a business’ operations can limit employees’ growth to some degree.

Those who work in finance, for example, may never get exposure to customer services, cutting them off from the valuable skills that could be learnt in this environment.  But while most companies cannot afford to regularly rotate their employees to expand their knowledge (and many employees wouldn’t necessarily want this anyway), volunteering offers individuals the chance to get exposure to a range of new experiences, enabling learning that can then be brought back to the workplace.

The finance officer who undertakes a volunteer role in their local charity shop can get experience in customer service, and may, as a result, positively alter the way they deal with colleagues or customers in their paid job.

It helps solidify interests and passions

Typically people will only volunteer for a cause that they have a genuine interest in, and in this way volunteering can be exceptionally helpful in helping individuals understand where their passions lie, and may help pave a path to move towards a role in this area (if they’re not already working in one).

Regardless of the skills being learnt, almost all will have some application back in the workplace

Many people work in industries that they are not passionate about, and not having a strong alignment with the values and vision of an organisation can be very detrimental to performance, especially in the long run. Those who volunteer, however, tend to have a much clearer appreciation for what it is that motivates and inspires them.

As a result they may find themselves looking for a new role in a more suited field, or working to try and alter their current situation to accommodate more of the things that inspire and engage them. The impact of this will be greater satisfaction at work, improved confidence and better outputs.

It develops new skills that complement an existing role

Specialist skills development is a popular reason for many people wanting to get involved in volunteering, and this can result in the evolution of existing skills, that aren’t perhaps being stretched in the individual’s working role.

Or it can result in the development of entirely new skills, but ones that complement the requirements of their work. Regardless of the skills being learnt, almost all will have some application back in the workplace that may help enable improved productivity, enhanced confidence and overall capability in a paid role.

It provides new perspectives

When we are exposed to one environment, and one set of people on a regular basis it can lead to limited thinking.

Thinking can become very rigid when you are working in the same environment day after day

However, those who volunteer will typically be exposed to a wide range of different perspectives and situations, and while these may not be directly applicable to the work context, having this diversity of perspectives and viewpoints to pull upon will help create more open-minded thinking.

This could result in new ways of approaching situations, alternative solutions to problems, or it may simply mean an individual becomes more tolerant of others around them – all of which will have a positive impact on the business and the workforce.

It improves problem solving skills

Thinking can become very rigid when you are working in the same environment day after day, but by volunteering and gaining exposure to new perspectives and enjoying different experiences, it allows individuals a new bank of information to use when solving typical work challenges.

It may be as a result of advice from a fellow volunteer on how they handled a similar situation, or perhaps due to an improved level of skill in a key area. Volunteers often have a much wider range of internal resources to rely upon when faced with a problem to solve, leading to quicker resolution and more effective outcomes.

It improves team work

Being involved in team work outside of the work environment can be a very rewarding experience, allowing individuals the opportunity to interact with different types of team players, and also see how others respond to this. This may be particularly useful if individuals regularly have to work with someone they view as being challenging.

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It may be you work in a team within your volunteer role with someone who behaves very similarly to someone at work; having the chance to see how others successfully manage this behaviour could lead to better insight into how this can be applied back in the work environment.

Equally it may be of benefit to those who often work independently in their day to day role, as this can become very isolating, and as a result when forced to work in a team environment, such individuals may find it difficult.

However, if they have the opportunity to work in teams outside of work, then when placed in a team within their formal role, it will be far easier to make this transition.

It boosts self-confidence

One of the most significant benefits of volunteering outside of work is undoubtedly the development of self-confidence.

This may be particularly important for those just starting out in a role, or even those who have reached the natural peak within their position. For those new to a role, having the chance to test their skills in a more relaxed environment will help ensure a greater feeling of confidence when asked to apply them at work.

Similarly for those who have reached a peak in their career, it can feel like there is nowhere further to develop, and individuals may become bored and despondent in their work, which can quickly decrease self-confidence. Volunteering can offer an opportunity to develop new skills, and be a reminder that they continue to have much to offer, even if they are not currently able to do so at work.

It benefits wellbeing

Volunteering is naturally good for wellbeing as it offers the chance to give back to the community, which has frequently been shown to help improve mental health and decrease stress.

But it is also good for wellbeing due to all of the reasons listed above; by enabling individuals to build self-confidence, develop their team working skills, improve their problem solving, and understand where their passions lie (and have the chance to do something in this field) individuals will naturally become more resilient, confident and competent.

It’s clear to see that volunteering has a slew of benefits

As a result they will feel significantly more able to deal with the natural stressors of life with relative ease, which is one of the key components of wellbeing. If the volunteering role also incorporates a physical element, then the added benefits of getting exercise will further enhance this by keeping them fit and decreasing the risk of illness.

In the work context this is of huge importance as those who are healthy and well in themselves will of course be far more productive, energetic and engaged in their work, improving outcomes for the business too.

It’s clear to see that volunteering has a slew of benefits to the individual participating, and as a consequence, to the business they work for too. It can help lead to career progression, personal and professional contentment and overall wellbeing.

The only caveat, of course, is that individuals need to be wary of balancing their time appropriately. While volunteering is a wonderful thing to do for yourself and others, it’s important to be mindful of any extra pressure this may place on your time. But if you know you have the time to spare and a passion for something that isn’t being met by your work or hobbies, then finding somewhere to volunteer and share your time for the benefit of others, will also be of immense benefit to you, and is well worth doing.

Enhance Magazine

This article was originally featured in Issue 17 of Enhance Magazine

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