Strategic volunteering launched my career

Margaret Mead quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has."

I’ve lived in Boston for just over 13 years, which is long enough to know I’m a newcomer. [click to tweet] When I arrived in 2002, I didn’t have secure housing or a job, much less a professional network.

Soon after moving to Boston I received two full-time career-track job offers on the same day. What made that possible? Strategic volunteering.

For over a year prior to moving to Boston, I visited regularly to build relationships with new friends, learn my way around the city, and get to know the organizations I hoped to work for.

At least once a month I volunteered for Fenway Health’s outreach program. After a few months I was offered the opportunity to be a lead volunteer, in charge of setting up the outreach table and training new volunteers. I accepted and was then in regular contact with staff at Fenway Health.

I also signed up to volunteer at AIDS Action Committee’s AIDS Walk a few months before moving to Boston. I knew I needed to stand out in a crowd of volunteers, so I offered to help out the day prior as well as the day of the event. The morning of the event I was asked to take a leadership volunteer role. AIDS Action staff now knew me and that I could be counted on.

When I applied a couple of months later to positions at both of these organizations, I had a strategic advantage that was not available to me a year prior. Stepping off the elevator for my first interview at AIDS Action I ran into the Volunteer Coordinator who greeted me by name. She then told the hiring manager how helpful I had been at the AIDS Walk. Similarly, when I applied for the Fenway Health position, I had a connection on staff who helped my resume get reviewed.

After months of job searching and applying to dozens of organizations – I received a job offer from both of these organizations. On the same day no less.

What was different about my application for these two positions? Strategic volunteering. This of course wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the skills and experience needed to succeed in the positions I applied for. It also wouldn’t have worked if I had been a lousy volunteer.

What are the steps to strategic volunteering? [click to tweet]


Identify Goals
What are your goals for volunteering? Make connections that might lead to a job offer? Enhance your experience to make you more hirable? Learn new skills? Support causes you care about? Share your expertise?

Research
Ask around to find out about organizations in your area and what their volunteer needs are. Determine which would be the best match based on your goals.

Focus
Instead of volunteering once for lots of organizations, focus your volunteer hours so you’re deepening your relationship with a couple of organizations.

Commit
Be dependable. Show up consistently. Do what you said you’d do.

Lead
When the opportunity arises, step up into a leadership role. It could be as simple as arriving early to set up the room and start the coffee. Earn trust by following through on bigger commitments and then ask for more responsibility.

What about after you land your dream job?

When I arrived in Boston, my career goal was to run multiple annual events for a progressive mission-driven organization. After several short-term contract positions, in 2005 I was offered the opportunity to work for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders where I managed up to 25 events a year that raised nearly $1,000,000.

It took me 2.5 years after moving to Boston to land my dream job, but I was still seeking community. I really wanted to meet like-minded progressives who understood intersectionality and who were interested in building a cross-issue progressive community together.

If it doesn’t exist create it.

A year later in 2006 I founded Socializing for Justice, a cross-cultural, cross-issue progressive community and network in Boston based on the philosophies of abundance and radical inclusion. Nine years later we’ve grown to nearly 3,000 members, hosted over 200 events, and facilitated countless connections. I definitely found the supportive community I was looking for (it’s even how I met my wife!). SoJust is not my paid work and we are not a formal non-profit organization, organizing SoJust events is another way for me to live my values and contribute to my community.

My commitment to social justice through volunteering with SoJust and as a GLAD staff member was recognized in 2011 when the city of Boston named my birthday “Robbie Samuels Day.” When I arrived in Boston in 2002 without secure housing or a job, I could never have imagined I’d be recognized with such an honor.

Today, I’m a solopreneur professional speaker on the cusp of being a work-at-home dad when my son is born (due 12/13!). That I definitely didn’t see in my future when I moved to Boston 13 years ago.

In the comments
What strategic volunteering could you do now to chart your career in the right direction?

Share what you find challenging about networking. Maybe your question will end up as the topic of a future blog post!

Robbie Samuels has been recognized as a networking expert by Inc. and Lifehacker, and profiled in “Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It” by Dorie Clark.  Check out “On the Schmooze” his new podcast.

Want to bring Robbie to your organization? Learn more about his sessions and keynotes at www.RobbieSamuels.com.

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