4 ways volunteering can facilitate learning

Shreya Tragad provides tips on how to combine the volunteering experience with an opportunity to learn 

Many people would love to be able to volunteer and develop professional skills, but most don’t have the free time to do both. Between work, family commitments, household chores, and running errands, most working professionals don’t have enough time to relax, let alone pick up new volunteering or professional development opportunities.
That’s why it’s valuable to combine volunteering with opportunities for professional development and continuing education. This way, hardworking employees can make the most of their available free time. 
Whether you’re a membership director, professional working in the learning business industry, or human resources manager, you may be interested in offering these dual opportunities to your members or employees. But, you may need a little more information about the benefits before jumping in. This guide explores how volunteering can help facilitate continued professional development for working professionals. 
One of the best things about volunteering is that it requires teamwork and collaboration to be successful
Remember, when designing your dual volunteering/professional development opportunities, it’s important to make them engaging. When participants feel invested in their work, they’ll get more out of the volunteer experience and remember the lessons learned. 
With that in mind, here are four ways volunteering can contribute to development opportunities for working professionals.
1. Acquire valuable new skills in a hands-on learning environment 
Did you know that well-designed volunteer opportunities open the door for working professionals to obtain new skills and implement them in a hands-on, practical way?
As Double the Donation’s volunteer management guide points out, volunteer opportunities are a great way for participants to flex their skills and contribute their specialised knowledge. 
For example, let’s say you’re an association membership director for a journalism association made up of college students. The local 4H club is hosting an autumn festival, and they need volunteers to take photos and document the festival. So, you create a volunteer opportunity for your college journalists to cover the event on behalf of the 4H club. 
This allows your members to gain on-the-ground reporting and photography experience and help a good cause all at the same time. Plus, they can test out new lighting or framing techniques or try innovative interview strategies that they learned about in their classes.
Your volunteer opportunities don’t even have to be in-person. You can also offer hybrid opportunities where participants help facilitate the virtual side of a hybrid event or redesign a not-for-profit website. 
Consider using volunteer management software tools to help you keep track of participants’ specialised skills or what they’re interested in learning more about. This can help you plan future volunteer opportunities more effectively to align with participants’ preferences.
2. Develop leadership skills
If you work with business professionals, it can be valuable to offer leadership training alongside volunteer opportunities. Corporate volunteering is a popular way to engage working professionals while providing hands-on leadership experience. 
Business professionals can gain leadership skills by managing a small group of volunteers, managing a full project on their own, or speaking to a group.
Volunteering also helps participants build a positive mindset and greater confidence. Volunteers benefit from the confidence boost that accompanies learning new skills and putting them into action. And, they benefit from the personal feeling of fulfilment that accompanies volunteer work. 
In addition, one of the best things about volunteering is that it requires teamwork and collaboration to be successful. This enables up-and-coming leaders to develop leadership skills as they have to work with a variety of people to achieve a common goal.
3. Participate in micro-learning and flexible learning opportunities
Everyone learns differently. Some prefer hands-on training, while others prefer watching tutorials online from the comfort of their own home
With the rise of digital technology, you can take advantage of e-learning platforms that allow your organisation to offer valuable training opportunities prior to your volunteer experiences. As Re:Charity’s guide to e-learning for volunteers explains, this type of learning offers many benefits, such as: 
Efficient and convenient training for volunteers. E-learning platforms allow volunteers to learn at their own time and pace. Online tutorials offer a comfortable learning environment, allowing volunteers to retain information efficiently.
Volunteer training progress tracking. Organisations like not for profits or associations can easily track volunteer training progress, which allows them to make decisions on the next steps. For example, they can track which volunteers are ready to participate in a shift, and which ones still need more time to complete the training.
Role matching between opportunities and volunteer interests. You can schedule volunteers for shifts and roles that align with their newfound skills. This will boost volunteer engagement as your volunteers sign up for roles that match their strengths and qualifications.
Taking your in-person training digital allows volunteers to pursue continued learning at their own pace, fitting flexible training opportunities into their busy schedules. You can even offer volunteers micro-learning opportunities, five-minute training lessons to complete in their free time.
4. Make new connections and network with community members
Another benefit of volunteering is that it provides networking opportunities. These opportunities help advance volunteers’ careers by empowering them to gain access to new professional development opportunities. 
For instance, let’s say your organisation is a chamber of commerce. You decide to host a town square clean-up with business leaders from all your member businesses. This allows business professionals to network and make valuable connections. These individuals can share business ideas, career tips, and other forms of advice to help each other learn more about topics that interest them. 
With a volunteer opportunity, everyone contributes different experiences, knowledge, and skillsets. By being a part of this environment, volunteers can connect and learn new skills from those with different expertise!
Learning never stops, and volunteering is the perfect way to help business professionals enhance their skills, grow their networks, and develop leadership skills that will help them in the long run. 
You can even use your volunteer experiences to test the waters before employees return to the office. You can help employees develop or flex their skills in a more casual environment to break the ice before heading back to regular office hours. 
No matter how you decide to structure your volunteering/professional development opportunities, make sure you listen to participant feedback to continuously improve your programme. Good luck!
Shreya Tragad is a creative content creator focusing on delivering information about the importance of volunteerism for not-for-profit organisations. Find out more at www.initlive.com


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