Volunteering: A Silver Lining in the Job Crisis

I often suggest volunteering as a great way to try out a new career path or simply direct our energies to something we care about other than our full-time job, if we’re lucky enough to have one. It’s also useful in helping keep ourselves feeling good about ourselves while looking for that next job.

Our current economic downturn has left many unemployed people thinking about what to do next. It’s a great time to re-examine who we are and what we really want to do with our lives. And for people thinking about making a career shift toward the non-profit world, this forced time-out is offering some a chance to try out their dream.

Now, when you volunteer you don’t usually get to do the kind of thing you might eventually want to do. Rarely does a volunteer get to manage a major project or lead a new creative effort. But you can still learn a lot about a place just by being there, getting to know the people, and looking for opportunities to help. (And you never know when a job might open up there or in an organization they work with that is right for you.)

At one point in my own life when I was still working in the corporate world, I wanted to get a job helping with issues of homelessness. So I decided to volunteer for an organization that provides housing and services to homeless families. I mostly helped with mailings or other such stuff, but as they began to know me and trust my dedication and abilities, I wound up helping on a project to site a new shelter. And that helped me when I applied a year later for a job with a government agency that managed the city shelter system.

On the flip side, while some non-profits welcome the new help, others are not prepared to handle all the calls – and they are feeling overwhelmed. Smaller organizations don’t have a volunteer coordinator, and it takes time and effort to manage volunteers well. (Here’s a thought…maybe you want to volunteer to be a volunteer coordinator!)

But, despite the issues that still need working out, I think this burst of volunteerism is a great thing. Not only can it help people try out a new career or learn about things they’re interested in, but, as the economy stabilizes and people return to the workplace, there will be many more people out there who really get what non-profits contribute to all of us and can help advocate for them from outside the non-profit walls.

To read more about this, here’s a March 15, 2009 article from the New York Times:

From Ranks of Jobless, a Flood of Volunteers



About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. HI Ronnie

    Here in Ireland we’ve seen a marked rise in people volunteering.

    Ireland has always had a great history of people working unpaid in organisations but the downturn has provided many non profits with much needed skills.

    We have a national volunteering agency that I believe help match people to organisations.

    You made a very good point about people taking the time to decide what’s important in their lives right now … reassessing and/or reaffirming their life priorities.

    I gave away my Life Dreaming workbook free a few weeks ago and all your readers are welcome to download a copy from my blog … just check the button at the top of my page.

    I have less money than ever … and am happily developing 2 online social enterprises … learning organic food growing … running the Sunny Funny Garden with local kids … writing my blog and highlighting activities in our small rural community … designing simple wordpress websites for local artists …

    Pretty much all for free and costing only my time.

    I’m also bartering my skills for goods and services from local businesses … and I believe that I will attract some paid contracts real soon.

    Now Ronnie … I could choose to feel really crap about having so little money … or … I could choose to be creative and find new ways to get what I need.

    I’d rather choose to feel excited, challenged and pretty darn happy … regardless of the external circumstances.

    I am developing my online enterprises and they will eventually make money … I’m investing time and energy and creativity in them … and loving it.

    I’m having the best time finding ways to be a part of my community … and still making sure there’s bread on the table.

    Lovely to have you back on your blog sharing your wisdom Ronnie.

    Best regards

  2. Thank you so much, Liz, for this wonderful comment. You know I’m a huge fan of your spirit and all you do for others. And of course, thanks for the kind words. Right back at ya.

    I hope readers will take a moment to check out your blog and, for anyone interested, take advantage of your generous offer to share the draft of your Life Dreaming book with all of us.

    May many many good things continue to come your way. Any business that gets you as a consultant is lucky indeed. As is any blogger who is your friend. 😉

    Peace out and in!


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