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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why Giving Back can Help your Community & Your career

Gen Y is intimately familiar with volunteering and social responsibility. As kids we were expected—sometimes required—to serve our communities. As young adults, we volunteered in our college towns and abroad.

Now, as a skilled young professional, you might be looking for somewhere else to make your mark, and something that puts your skills to better use than painting houses. Wouldn’t it be great to drive social change with that same expertise that gets you ahead during the day?
Good news: that opportunity is out there! You can donate your professional skills pro bono to a nonprofit, government agency, or social change organization, and see the power of pro bono service.

And your altruism can help you too. Pro bono programs can be valuable to your development as an employee—a sentiment seconded by 91 percent of HR professionals. Pro bono work also looks great on résumés and graduate school applications, as it shows leadership, commitment, and a drive to see others succeed.

Not convinced? Six reasons business professionals like you choose to donate their skills pro bono:
1. Diversify your résumé and professional portfolio
A graphic designer in San Francisco came to the Taproot Foundation, the largest pro bono consulting firm in the nation, explaining, “I love my job, but I have been designing in blue and white for 20 years. I want to design in a different color.”
Even if you love your job, reaching outside your everyday work and getting your hands dirty in another industry, field, or even color can enrich your skills.
If you’re in marketing, experiment with new audiences by creating a branding strategy for a local nonprofit; if you’re in finance, conduct a financial analysis for your local school district and see what it might teach you about bootstrapping. Using your professional skills in a new way gives you fresh insights, and teaches you to bring more creativity to the table.

2. Develop leadership and team-building skills

If you work at an industry behemoth, you’ve probably already found out it’s not always easy to take ownership of big projects as a young professional. But when you volunteer outside of the office, chances are you’ll be sitting in the driver’s seat, honing your leadership skills and learning to direct a team.
“I became a much better manager,” recalls pro bono veteran Donna Campbell. “I had to quickly learn how to motivate and persuade people that I barely knew and get them to work together.”

3. Build your professional network

If you provide high quality services—as no doubt you will—your pro bono clients could become some of your top references. And since you’re likely to get more leadership opportunities on a pro bono project, they may be especially well-equipped to testify to your skills managing a project.
Working on a team with other pro bono volunteers can also give you the opportunity to meet a diverse group of people in your industry—with whom you share a common interest—and help you expand your network.

4. Win respect from professional peers

Engaging in pro bono work can improve your status in the eyes of your employer. Corporations have a difficult time gaining legitimacy in the public eye, and often look to develop social impact initiatives. By donating your time to an organization in your community, you gain positive public exposure for yourself and your company. What’s more, if you do a stellar job without commission, it will leave people wondering what amazing things you’re capable of with a paycheck.

5. Get a firsthand look at the inner workings of a nonprofit

For many business professionals, working with nonprofits can be a lot like visiting a different country: it can be a fun, rich, and rewarding learning experience. While there are some distinctive differences between the nonprofit and for-profit sector (i.e., free lunch), that’s not necessarily bad.
Working with the management side of a nonprofit will give you a better look at what goes on behind closed doors at your local art museums, food pantries, and homeless shelters. You might find it to be an exciting and fulfilling environment, and ideally you’ll do some cross-pollinating and bring new insights back to your own office.

6. Create lasting and tangible impact

Pro bono work gives nonprofit and community organizations access to vital resources they cannot always readily afford. And offering your professional skills lets you contribute something unique, a more specialized gift than painting a daycare room, stuffing envelopes, or other types of hands-on volunteering. Necessary as those services are, they’re much easier to recruit than a skilled graphic designer or financial analyst!

So what next?

Find the perfect project for you. Be careful—not all pro bono opportunities are created equal, and the wrong choice could leave a bad taste in your mouth for years. Check to see if there is an established pro bono program in your company or ask a more senior colleague for guidance, and check out these tips on finding the right pro bono project!

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