Lend your expertise to the nonprofit world (and gain some, too)

Whether you’re newly graduated and job-searching or interested in getting involved outside of your 9-to-5, finding a great cause to support with your time and skill set can be fulfilling and a point of pride for your resume. Set yourself apart by scoring meaningful volunteer work this summer.

Do your research

Do you have a connection to the mission? Have you had previous experience volunteering with a similar cause? Would you want to stay involved long-term? Take the time to find an organization you believe in and get to know as much as you can about them. Knowing the staff structure, current projects, upcoming events, even their social media presence will help you to figure out where your expertise might be needed the most.

Start out as a volunteer, and go beyond if you can

Attend a volunteer orientation, and bring your resume with you. If possible, request to set up some time to meet with the staff one-on-one and ask if there are any special projects or committees that you can work on based on your previous experience. Also, be conscious of what you’re asking for: managing a volunteer project often can take up a significant amount of staff time, so it is important to be respectful of their time.

Put those “hard skills” to the test

And what does “previous experience” mean, exactly? Very often with small nonprofits, staff time might be limited to execution of programs and the day-to-day versus analysis and strategy. Does the organization need a major database clean up? Analysis of their fundraising events via an Excel expert? A new system for organizing their backlog of files? If your schedule allows it, consider proposing a project as an unpaid internship-it will give your volunteer time more legitimacy and show employers that you’re continuously sharpening your skills.

Follow through with your project (and promise)

Set some goals and create a timeline with the staff you are working with on your project. Be transparent about your life outside of volunteer work, especially if you are job-searching and unsure of when you may start working full-time. If you don’t know where the summer will take you, set up a “Plan B” to transition your project or finish it up on a timeline that works with your new schedule.

Find out about the board of directors

Being on the board of a nonprofit is a way to be part of an organization’s strategic conversations, and it’s a huge honor. If you’ve put in a significant amount of time volunteering and you’ve gotten to know the organization well, don’t be afraid to indicate that you’d like to be part of it. Large organizations sometimes have fundraising boards specifically designed for young professionals. And if they don’t have a young professional board, do they need one? Propose it and make it happen!


Jenny Howard is a development professional and a proud University of Michigan graduate. Follow her on Twitter @jennifhow.