Volunteering gives you skills you might not get

Here in San Antonio, Texas, Fiesta is in full bloom. For those of you not from San Antonio, it’s not a flower. Fiesta is a ten-day celebration that is much like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The only difference is everyone knows about Mardi Gras, but few know about Fiesta. Over the ten days, there are over fifty different events being held. Every single event must be philanthropic in nature and that means they are pretty much all run by volunteers.

For many people, volunteering at something like Fiesta, or other activities is an opportunity to stretch your skills in such a way that you might not be able at work. Specifically in regards to skills around leading events and organizations.

If you are not in a leadership or management role, but have had some education and training in that role, how do you put that training to use? Everyone knows if you get trained, but don’t immediately use the training, it goes away.

Taking on a managing role for major volunteer projects or stepping up into a volunteer organization leadership role allows you to flex your education and training.

What’s best is that volunteer activities are generally a lot safer than activities at work. If you take on a leadership role for a non profit and are not extremely successful right off the bat, people are generally accepting of that. Fail at work in the same type role and the consequences are generally different. So, volunteer leadership is a pretty safe way to test your skills.

Also, I have always believed that leading volunteers is significantly harder than leading people at work. At work, those that work for you, either all the time or on a project, are more compelled to follow your direction even if they don’t agree. In a sense, it is pretty easy to get people to do things at work, as compared to a volunteer who can tell you where to stick it and walk away. So, when leading volunteers, you really need to think through how you lead and influence, versus simply telling someone to do something.

Lastly, volunteer leadership opportunities normally build a lot of ancillary skill sets that you might never use on the job. Things like managing money, working contracts, setting strategies, etc. Think about something apparently simple as the President of your Home Owners Association. They have to ensure the organization is following the by laws and incorporation guidance. They have to run meetings and fill a meeting leadership role following a set guidance–Robert’s Rules. They have to perform public speaking at formal meetings. They have to set strategy, create and manage budgets, and establish and manage contracts. They have to interface and network with law enforcement, fire department, and politicians. This is a full-time role and stretches your capabilities to the fullest measure.

So, spread your wings and stretch your skills by volunteering. I’m not talking about making cookies for a bake sale…really take a chance and fill major leadership roles with volunteer opportunities at work, in the church, with your community, for something like Fiesta, with a professional organization, etc.

Good luck and most of all, have fun at it.


About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

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