Volunteer work is a great opportunity to develop and expand new skills that can be used in the workplace. Offering your time to help an organization can be not only personally fulfilling, it can help give you a boost in your professional life.

People volunteer for many reasons and these reasons may vary from person-to-person. It could be the volunteer work is a requirement to satisfy an obligation, or the volunteer has decided to donate time as a self-fulfilling and completely altruistic activity, using this time to offer skills or knowledge or to gain the rewarding feeling of giving back to society. Others volunteer as a way to gain self-achievement through a sense of accomplishment or to have added experience to include on a résumé. If looking for the latter, it is entirely possible to do this and combine it with a cause you're passionate about.

No matter what the reasons are for offering personal time to volunteer, there is an extra added benefit that can be derived from any type of volunteering - the ability to gain skills. Volunteering gives individuals a great learning opportunity to acquire new skills and/or hone existing professional skills. True, you will not paid for your time, but the benefits acquired could prove to be invaluable.

Woman writing resume
Credit: Daniel Lobo on Flickr (CC by 2.0 with Attribution)

Volunteer experience can help build a solid resume

Grow People Skills

Working side-by-side with others to help a cause is a perfect opportunity to grow people skills. Possessing good personal interactive skills is one of the most important talents you can gain. People skills are one of the "soft skills" which really can't be taught from a book; this generally comes as a natural personal attribute or through experience. Volunteering offers the ability to nurture existing people skills or teach it to those who don't have the know-how to instinctively react with others in a positive way.

In the professional workplace, if you can't get along with others or cannot relate to people, in most jobs it is often very difficult to experience levels of success. Even if you work alone in a cubicle, at some point you will have to interact with a boss, colleague or even a customer, even if only electronically. Having good people skills is a good characteristic to possess. If you don't have this intuition naturally, volunteering can help you learn it. These days, possessing soft skills definitely matters. 1

Learn the Art of Teamwork

While it's true volunteering can range in the type of work done, in many environments where you'd offer your time to help, there is a good possibility you'd be working alongside other people. That being the case, the volunteer environment is a great way to gain additional experience in teamwork. This includes understanding the value of diversity, strong communication, mutual respect, shared planning, cooperation, decision-making and working towards common goals. Many people are naturally great team players, but it wouldn't be uncommon for someone to not have the experience or the opportunity to do so in previous jobs.

U.S. Army Golden Knights
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

The U.S. Army's Golden Knights displayed strong teamwork skills at a 2012 air show in Northern Virginia.

Hone Communication Skills

Communication is valuable for any kind of professional career. It is unrealistic to think you can work and never interact with anyone, even in the high-tech society we live in. Volunteering in an environment where you're often interacting with colleagues or clients; this can help you hone communication skills. Even if you already have strong communicative skills, this offers you the chance to improve and grow existing skills, or even teach your own skills to others; the latter can enhance your leadership and/or communicative skills. 

Credit: CDC Global Health/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Learn Technical or Organizational Skills

Volunteer work may consist of organization, bookkeeping, grant-writing, fundraising, administration, leadership, offering expertise services or even doing computer work to name a few. No matter what capacity or position, volunteering offers a terrific way to learn or increase technical or organizational skills. Most nonprofits will want a person who has some skills to offer that will help it reach its mission and goals, however, like any other paid job, there is room to learn. These newly acquired skills can later be highlighted on a resume.

Working in the volunteer environment is the perfect opportunity to learn in an atmosphere where there is likely less pressure. Donating your time is a great opportunity to help you learn skills without the constant fear of being fired. This is not to say you should not worry about the proverbial screw-up or try to hide it if it does happen,  however, often there is more tolerance in a non-profit atmosphere.

"It’s neither practical nor productive to terminate the employment or volunteer status of every human being who makes a mistake. A commitment to reflecting on how and why mistakes occur is less expensive in the long run," writes Melanie Lockwood Herman on the Nonprofit Risk Management Center website.  2

The for-profit entities are sometimes not as forgiving, depending on the managerial philosophy.

Network Opportunities

Another side benefit to volunteering are the networking opportunities. Through this type of job you can meet new people and also meet others working with or coming into the nonprofit facility. For instance, BankRate highlights a scenario where a woman was struggling to find a paying job. Instead of sitting home and stewing about her financial problems, she decided to go out and volunteer. The end result? A director of another nonprofit was impressed with her work and referred her to an open job she had heard about. Next thing she knew, the woman was now employed, all due to her volunteer experience. 3

Many valuable attributes can be gained from volunteering. While most people volunteer as a way to help others, it can also benefit one's professional life, so it's a double bonus. The feelings and satisfaction received from volunteering is often immeasurable.