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Voluntary work: good practice for future leaders

One of the most powerful ways for young managers to become true leaders is to do voluntary work early on in their career. Leading volunteers while having a minimum of resources at your disposal is challenging. In this column you will find 3 reasons why you as a (future) manager should offer your time and attention to a local charity or foundation. On top of that, I offer three tips for the convinced.

Voluntary work 2.0

Professionals’ search for meaning and social impact in work is nothing new. Corporate Social Responsibility programmes that stimulate voluntary work reinforce corporate pride and employee satisfaction. The positive effects on performance are no surprise either.

Research of professor Lucas Meijs (Erasmus Centre for Strategic Philanthropy) shows that people do voluntary work for two main reasons. One is to simply give expression to who you are. The second is an inner drive to ‘do good’. These motives haven’t changed. However, the type of voluntary work is shifting. More than ever are volunteers offering their knowledge and expertise instead of handy work and a steady amount of working hours.

This “voluntary work 2.0” creates new opportunities. Now, the connection between voluntary work and the advantages for professional development is usually underestimated. The usage in business is often limited to teambuilding activities.

3 examples of “voluntary work 2.0”: donating knowledge and experience

• The marketing manager of a reputable bank leads a project within an NGO to map target groups and strengthen the position of the organisation.

• A team of talented legal and financial advisors help the founder to coordinate a change process within a foundation.

• A trainer of coach, together with the board, set up a innovative learning journey for the volunteers of a local society.

Prepare for leadership

This voluntary work where professionals help foundations by steering them towards a flourishing future offers the right preparation for an executive position. Why?

1. Developing the skill to motivate and inspire

As said before, leading volunteers is challenging. Without payment or authority it seems much harder to get teams to work productively towards a common goal. EQ must rule over IQ because creating and maintaining personal relations becomes crucial. More than in business must managers show the added value for volunteers, what social impact they have. Volunteers need to be proud of their contribution. Fully supporting the collective purpose is key. That’s why not a day goes by where the people within the NGO or charity don’t connect with the mission of the organisation. This resonates with the way upcoming generations long to be adressed, with an appealing mission instead of just through authority or external incentives.

2. The mastery of community building

Taking motivation and inspiration for individuals to the next level equals creating a community. Many non-profit organizations exhibit the mastery of building on the common dedication and energy of volunteers. Typically these organizations exist on the premise of shared interdependence. Leaders have no other choice than to be modest and servant. It calls for an open attitude with the willingness to learn together. A non-profit is nothing without its volunteers. The connectedness that arises – as research shows – is one of the basic conditions for satisfactory performance on the work floor

3. Good practice in creativity, flexibility and effective decision-making

NGOs have limited resources at their disposal. Decisions how to use the goods or funds create pressure. Moreover, volunteers are very demanding in how they like to spend their precious free time and fit the work in their busy schedule. Flexibility in how to best allocate their time and input is important. All of this calls for an enormous level of creativity and is good practice for future managers- especially in these days of economical crisis.

Three things to bare in mind while making your decision

Tips to create the voluntary position where you can best develop your executive role:

1. Choose a development need where you actually want to have social impact. Just adding to your resume and wanting to learn is just not enough. Are you fond of animals, would you like to fight a serious disease or is nature your passion? Choose with your heart.

2. Be generous with the amount of time you invest, especially at first. You will need the time to really get to know the organisation. And they need time to see what works best for you too.

3. Discuss upfront what role you would like to fill in and what expectations you have.

Finally, having a steering position in a non-profit organization is a two-way street: you will offer knowledge and expertise and learn a lot at the same time. This equality is essential for a fruitful collaboration.

Would you like to read more about voluntary work? I suggest turning to the research of professor Lucas Meijs.

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