Volunteering: The professional and personal benefits of helping others

By Betsy Noxon

Playing a game with a neglected child, going to the zoo with a troubled teen or planning a holiday party with a group of homeless women may be all it takes for you to make a difference to someone in need. Volunteers offer hope and a glimpse of brightness to others. There are plenty of worthwhile opportunities in your community that need your help, but how will you manage your time between work, family and volunteering?

Career and Social Benefits
Volunteer programs often provide people the opportunity to develop and establish strong community and social ties while gaining valuable skills that help them in the workplace. Nancy Starnes-Pierce mother of an 18-month-old daughter and owner of the clothing line business Couture, Inc. based in Barrington, Illinois, decided to volunteer in the community in order to meet people in the Chicago suburbs. She has volunteered with the Junior League of Chicago for 6 years and with Wellness Place, a breast cancer support center in Inverness, Illinois, for the past year. Starnes-Pierce says the public speaking skills she developed as a leader in the Junior League was an advantage to her securing a new corporate development position with the New York-based Carlisle Collection, a position that requires public speaking. She has also formed friendships from her volunteer experiences, such as with a 90-year-old homebound senior citizen.

Jamie Cole, the director of communications for Bellefaire Jewish Children's Bureau and founder of Cole Communications in Shaker Heights, Ohio joined the Cleveland Playhouse Square Partners to network for business and to meet young professionals. Now, a mother of a 3-year old daughter and expecting a baby in May, Cole is on the Executive Committee for the Cleveland Grand Prix Charities and on the Board for the Achievement Centers for Children. Cole and her extended family are also deeply involved in charity work. She explains, "I fine-tune my leadership skills and abilities with the volunteer organizations I'm involved with. In addition, my skills are transferable. My experience working with a non-profit company leads me to do cost conscious, quality charity work."

Volunteer organizations also offer an arena for networking and fostering business relationships as well as providing positive corporate exposure. Cole says, "As the leader of the marketing committee for the Grand Prix Charities I can leverage my independent client's sponsorship in the Grand Prix while offering ideas for sponsorship at the corporate level."

Starnes-Pierce adds, "I am also creating positive exposure for my company by working with the Junior League in organizing a fundraising event with the Carlisle Collection."

A Personal Touch
People are also drawn to volunteering for more personal reasons. Diane Gerew, a legal consultant for Hewitt and Associates in Lincolnshire, Ill., initially volunteered as a tutor for low-income children when she was in college. After completing her education and joining a law firm, a co-worker told her about the Junior League. Gerew, a mother of two young children, found the Junior League's structure and organization as well as the variety of hands-on community work of the League appealing. Gerew was also seeking a group of female role models that understood what she needed out of an organization. "I find that my volunteer work validates me as a person. Volunteering reduces my stress level and helps me keep things in perspective. If I'm working on a demanding and stressful business deal and then switch gears by reading to kids who don't know how to read, I am able keep my work in perspective. I've become more outgoing in my volunteer participation."

Corporate Involvement
Even in today's economic pressure, companies are participating in philanthropy as well as establishing employee volunteer programs. Freddie Mac, a mortgage financial institution, supports over 70 community programs and activities. Over a third of their employees participate in these programs as a result of the company matching individual interests with volunteer opportunities. The company sets a strong example by being a premier corporate philanthropist as well.

Tonya Jackson, vice president of customer care and organizational capabilities with Freddie Mac and mother of two sons, finds volunteering a natural part of her life. Jackson is involved and supports several organizations and groups and credits Freddie Mac for it's partnerships between two local schools, Alexander Preschool and the Phillips School. Along with Freddie Mac, Jackson organized a landscaping project with Alexander Preschool that involved her staff and proved to be a positive team-building experience. Freddie Mac encourages employees to volunteer and matches volunteer hours with dollars. Employees then contribute to charities of their choice.

Finding the Right Organization
Whether you reach out to a local charity or a large national organization, you should take the time to consider your objectives in order to make the experience meaningful. Researching the organization's projects, programs and events as well as talking to members of the organization will help you make an informed decision. The following are some questions to consider when choosing a volunteer program:

  • What types of projects does the organization fund?
  • What is their mission statement?
  • What is the organization's reputation in the community?
  • What is the monetary commitment for membership and are there options?
  • Are there a variety of projects available and where are they located in the community?
  • What are the time and meeting requirements and are they flexible?
  • What leadership positions are available?
  • Is there an opportunity for family involvement in project work?

Making it Work
Do you feel one more commitment will put you over the edge? Making time to volunteer is a priority for many working mothers who feel their effort is worthwhile and important to the balance of their lives. The following are some tips from executive mom's for managing your time to fit volunteering into your schedule:

  • Elicit support from spouse and extended family members.
  • Be highly organized.
  • Stay focused on projects or work at hand.
  • Plan meetings around your work schedule, such as early morning, lunch or evenings.
  • Plan conference calls when appropriate.
  • Involve your family in projects and make it fun!
Executive moms say finding the time is always a challenge, but by volunteering you set an example for your family. Teaching and modeling the importance of helping in the community leads to invaluable rewards and gratification for all involved.

Also see:
Simplify your life to focus on what you care about
More articles about work and family balance
Executive mom's balancing secrets
Ask the Work/Life Coach

Betsy Noxon is a freelance writer based in Arlington Heights, Ill., mother of one and expecting another child in July. She is actively involved in volunteer organizations. Contact her at Bnoxon@gateway.net