Dear LinkedIn, do I really need to volunteer?

Dear LinkedIn,

In comparison to Facebook, you are “the bomb.” You offer me a chance to buy-in for greater access, you have built-in privacy, and you don’t hammer me with ads or trivial nonsense. A unique feature for all my baby-boomer friends, LinkedIn provides a built-in Rolodex that lets you look up people on the fly. Handy when you find yourself at an event trying to remember the name of someone you worked with decades ago and it has moved to the inaccessible part of your brain. They have no name-tag, but you know where they work now. A quick, discreet parse through LinkedIn on your smartphone and voila, “Lucy – imagine seeing you here!”

While there are other sites like Indeed for job and candidate searching, LinkedIn is a well-developed networking tool for finding potential teaming partners, building collaborations across the internet, and staying connected through work-world type posts. LinkedIn also suggests ways to bolster your CV by adding your activities like volunteering and being on boards and commissions. 

But why is volunteering or being on boards important? What do you get when you volunteer?

The short answers are “yes” and “everything you put into it and more”. I’ve volunteered with ITE and WTS, served on the City of Kirkland Transportation Commission, Seattle Freight Advisory Board, Board of the Transportation Choices Coalition, and Board of the Northwest Choirs, and chaired the parent committee at one of my kid’s school. Participation in professional societies and business activities is remarkably easy to justify, especially if your company is willing to support you with (paid) time and resources. And, most professional societies are designed to welcome volunteers and mentor them into senior roles and board positions. Additionally, volunteering and board activities have always provided me with excellent experiences that have paid non-traditional dividends. For example, when I ran the WTS Job Bank way back when it was on a dial-up bulletin board, I helped someone find a job during an economic downturn, and he never forgot that assistance. 

Volunteering takes time outside of your job, but it might be your best chance of gaining specific skills. Motivating volunteers to work together takes creativity. Being a board member or commissioner of any organization, even a school PTA, requires an understanding of management and accountability. Participating in a professional society gives you opportunity to expand your network and build organizational leadership skills. These learned abilities can be first steps for managing a group or running for public office. Look at the profiles of many folks you respect as leaders, and you’ll probably see volunteers.

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