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4 Ways Managing Skilled Volunteers Can Advance Your Career

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This guest post is from Hayley Samuelson, Storytelling Officer at Catchafire.

Have you considered how managing volunteers can help you achieve your professional goals as a nonprofit leader or social entrepreneur? If you ever get the chance to manage a skills-based volunteer, you are presented with a huge growth opportunity.

One of the many reasons that professionals offer their skills is because they ae looking to develop in their careers. Skills-based volunteer projects go above and beyond in that they don’t stop at developing the volunteer.

Learn how managing a skills-based volunteer can take your career to another, more rewarding, level.

Develop and refine your skills

No matter what the stage of your career, there is always more room to grow.

For example, Blake, Monarch’s Chief Development Officer, needed to better understand his leadership style and prepare to lead his first large-scale brand campaign. He started working with Sylvana, an expert in the space, who taught him to negotiate within a leadership role and to get what is best for the organization in a calm and productive way.

He is now using this knowledge to support his team and coach them to be more effective leaders.

“I used the techniques she taught me, and my presentation was almost way too perfect,” says Blake. “I use all of those things for my personal gain but really to be an omniscient view for the organization. As an officer, that’s my job, and we don’t always remember that. I think I’m a better manager and better leader by figuring out my leadership style.”

Learn something completely new

When working with a skills-based volunteer, you have the chance to work with someone who is potentially an expert in their subject matter. Take the time to learn from them.

Treat each project as a mini-course. Ask questions to learn more about the professionals strategic process, take notice of how they structure meetings, and test out new things to get feedback on how you are growing.

Carlene, a VISIONS Board Member and aspiring graphic designer, paired up with freelance designer Colette on a logo design project. The goal was to establish VISIONS as a forward thinking, contemporary and reputable organization through a new logo. However, by the end, the two had so much fun and success working together, that Colette signed on to work on another project with Carlene and VISIONS.

Carlene was able to express and develop her design skills with an expert and grew tremendously from the experience, personally and professionally.

Gain leadership experience

Managing a skills-based volunteer is a great way to show your manager that you are ready to assume more responsibility. If you already are a manager, this is a great time to open up new opportunities to your team). Developing a relationship with a volunteer is a fun and rewarding experience that tests your management and leadership skills.

Work on a project that is focused in an area that you would like to assume more responsibility in at your organization to prove that you’ve had some training in the area. If all goes well, you’ll end up with a personal advisor for the long run.

Build your cadre of experts

Who couldn’t use another advisor? Especially one who is an expert in the exact field that you work in (or need to excel in during the year ahead). Go into the project with the mentality that you are building a relationship with an advisor, and it will most likely end up that way.

Many organizations have professionals staying on past the initial project to advise them. If this happens, use them as a resource when you need it!

NBA Math Hoops’ Social Media Professional offered to stay on as an advisor for a year after the first project had come to a close, and even called them to give feedback when he saw an event they live-tweeted.

This doesn’t take up much of the professional’s time and can be a total game changer for you. If you’ve ever needed a gut check or just to run an idea by someone, most professionals are more than happy to help you!

Take the experience Brooke from Resilience Advocacy Project had: “Every single person that we have worked with has become an ongoing friend and partner of the organization. As a nonprofit, building your cadre of experts is really hard to do. It’s hard to find time, know who those experts are, or even what they do.”

Each professional she’s worked with stuck around as an advisor and someone she could call if she needed advice or direction.

If you are interested in working with skills-based volunteers to build your organization's (and your own) capacity, consider using resources such as Taproot, Catchafire or LinkedIn for Good.

Hayley Samuelson

HAYLEY SAMUELSON is the Storytelling Officer at Catchafire, a New York City-based, for-purpose social mission business that makes skills-based connections between volunteers and nonprofit organizations. You can find them on Twitter at @Catchafire.

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