Categories: Best Practices, Career Development, Communication, Continuous Learning, Human Aspects of PM, Mentoring, Sharing Knowledge, Talent Management, Volunteering
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMP
Are you passionate about a cause? Do you want to lend a hand? Whether you’re interested in volunteering in the project management community or using your project skills to help a non-profit, you may be unsure where to start.
As a newcomer to the volunteer world myself, I had no idea what questions to ask or what to expect. So, to help other project managers, I’m sharing six of the biggest myths and misconceptions about volunteering I’ve encountered—and the key questions to ask to make the most of your experience.
Myth #1: Volunteering is easy.
Volunteering often means learning new skills and delivering projects alongside people you’ve never met before. That’s why building trusting relationships is key to successful engagement in volunteer opportunities—and it’s not as simple as it may sound.
As a volunteer, you’ll likely be entering into an organization with people who have already made connections and collaborated. You’ll have to prove your worth as a member of the team. Depending on the organization and your role, some specific skills are needed. As you pursue volunteer opportunities, take the time to understand the position by asking these questions:
- Will the volunteering be in person? Or is it virtual?
- How many hours per week, on average, does this role require?
- How does the team communicate? How often?
- How is information shared among team members?
- Who will my other teammates be?
Myth #2: Volunteering requires minimal time.
Many organizations run on volunteer work, which sometimes means a lot will be asked of you. You may even end up spending your weekends or evenings working for the organization, even if at the beginning you promised yourself you’d only work a few hours a week. Set boundaries early on to ensure that both you and the organization are getting your needs met. And ask yourself these questions first:
- What are the actual hours and commitment required? Remember, this is volunteer work—not a second unpaid job.
- Does this opportunity fit with your personal, professional and family life? Will it generate unwarranted frustration or stress?
- When will meetings generally take place, on the weekends or weekday evenings?
Myth #3: Commitment is flexible.
Even if it is a volunteer opportunity, you need to commit to deliver or not. Otherwise, your colleagues will be overloaded if you jump ship with short or no notice. For example, I volunteered as a community manager for the LinkedIn group of a local community and when I replaced the former admin, 500 member requests were pending! Not fulfilling your responsibilities as a volunteer damages the association’s reputation and creates added work for other parties involved. Step up or step back!
Myth #4: Communication is simple.
In many work environments, communication isn’t always valued. Volunteering adds another layer of complexity. Volunteers often communicate with teams via emails and instant messenger. Moreover, volunteers don’t always have access to the same team members that full-time staffers enjoy. This can create misunderstandings. Communication—verbal or virtual—must be clear to cut through the static. Ask yourself these questions first:
- What are your preferred means of communication?
- When and how can you be contacted?
- Is there information that you, as a volunteer, will not be privy to?
Myth #5: Only the organization will benefit.
When done well, volunteering should benefit both the organization and the volunteer. Before committing to a role, clarify your goals and how they align with the organization:
- What can you bring to the organization?
- What can you learn?
- Do you want to volunteer for your ego, or to help the organization and its members? Or both?
- What are the values of the organization? Do they align with your values?
- How does this activity reinforce your professional goals and values, without damaging them?
Myth #6: There’s no way out.
Life can change in an instant. Your motivation also evolves. Moving on is not a mark of shame, provided you plan your exit properly. Therefore, from the outset, you should enquire:
- Is it a flexible position?
- How long should I engage?
- What is the process to stop?
What are some lessons learned from your own volunteer experiences?