Volunteering is often seen as something that people do to give back to their communities or to help others in need. While this is certainly one of the benefits of volunteering, it is important to recognize that the everyday professional recognizes volunteer opportunities as professional development that can help you grow and advance in your career. Here are a number of reasons why you should consider volunteering as a way to enhance your professional development opportunities.

Gain valuable work experience and new skills.

First and foremost, volunteering can help you gain valuable work experience and skills. Many organizations need volunteers to help with various tasks and projects, and by volunteering, you can get hands-on experience in a variety of fields. For example, if you are interested in marketing, you could volunteer to help a local non-profit with its social media campaigns. This would give you the opportunity to learn about the latest marketing techniques and strategies, as well as see how they are applied in a real-world setting. When I started out early on in my photography career, I volunteered with a variety of non-profits capturing events, donating my services to low-income couples they services, or donating gift certificates to fundraisers.  I expanded my network of potential couples, did good, and gained valuable hours of experience in a variety of situations. Win-win.

Looking to pivot out of your current career into a new one? Volunteering is a great way to expand your professional development as it’s a low-risk way to try out different roles and see what you enjoy and what you are good at. You may be pleasantly surprised that you gain some skills that lead you in a completely different direction that is the perfect fit for you!

Network and build connections in your field.

In addition to gaining work experience and skills, another reason to consider volunteer opportunities as professional development is the invaluable expansion of your network and the opportunities it allows you to build connections. When you volunteer, you will be working with other volunteers and staff members who are likely to be knowledgeable and experienced in their field. By interacting with these individuals and building relationships with them, you can learn from them and gain valuable insights and advice that can help you in your career, expand your client base, or provide you with references. The connections you make through volunteering can be a valuable resource when it comes to finding job opportunities or seeking recommendations.

Develop those teamwork skills.

Furthermore, volunteering can help you develop leadership and teamwork skills. Many volunteer opportunities involve working on a team to accomplish a common goal, and this can be a great way to learn how to lead and collaborate with others. In this sense, volunteer opportunities are absolutely professional development: you can gain experience in project management, problem-solving, and communication, all of which are essential skills in the workplace. Additionally, volunteering can also help you develop a sense of responsibility and accountability, which are important qualities for any professional.

Give back and live a happier existence 

In addition to the practical skills and experiences that you can gain through volunteering, it can also provide personal and emotional benefits. Volunteering can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, as it allows you to make a positive impact on your community and the people around you. When we volunteer, we have the opportunity to meet new people and make new connections, which can be especially valuable for those who are feeling isolated or disconnected from others. Volunteering also gives us the chance to use our skills and talents to make a difference in the lives of others, which can be a very satisfying and rewarding experience. By doing so, we can help to create a sense of community and belonging, and contribute to a more positive and supportive environment for everyone.

I’ve found over the decades of my adult life that my happiness and self-satisfaction are directly correlated more so to how much I give and help others, rather than by the items I acquire.  I’m a big promoter of effective altruism, but really, altruism in general.  I donate a percentage of every dollar I make to the Boys and Girls Club of Lake Tahoe and continue to try to volunteer monthly with a number of organizations.  If you aren’t sure where to start, I always recommend your local food bank.  Food banks generally require little to no training and can be volunteered with on a very flexible schedule and timing. I absolutely love volunteering with The Central Texas Food Bank in Austin, TX, and try to always pick up a shift a month when I’m there.

By helping others, you can feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment that can be difficult to find in the workplace. Additionally, volunteering can help you develop a sense of empathy and compassion, which can make you a better colleague and team member.

The short of the long of it: volunteering brings happiness in a number of ways. It allows us to connect with our communities, make a positive impact on the world around us, reduce stress and improve our well-being, contribute to a more positive and supportive community, learn new skills, and expand our horizons. All five-star reasons in my book why you should consider volunteer opportunities as professional development. So next time you’re looking for a way to expand your professional development opportunities, and aim to bring some happiness into your life, consider volunteering – you just might find that it’s the most rewarding experience you’ve ever had.