Why you should raise your hand for that volunteer opportunity at work

When I first started looking for internships during undergrad, candidly, I was not excited by anything out there. All the business opportunities looked painfully similar. Stay with me, this is a happy story. What caught my eye during research for job fairs were the firms that heavily demonstrated their commitment to community. While it is pretty common nowadays to champion community involvement, what is less common is sincere passion backing those snapshots of community events.

Nearly every time I spoke with a representative of a company, I heard the same message: ‘Community service is great! We have one event each year that we rally behind and blast on social media. Other than that, not much else goes on.’ Disappointing… that is until I stumbled upon Vanguard’s My Classroom Economy, which is a program that enables educators to teach children financial responsibility through experiential learning.

From the multiple interviews to the first day of my internship at Vanguard, everyone I asked about My Classroom Economy indicated it was an ongoing, substantial operation: a mini-business within the business. Comprised of project teams, ambassador roles, as well as leaders for the work streams, this organization was solving a problem known all too well among my generation: a lack of financial literacy. Throughout college, in casual conversations or classroom debate, I heard the common lamentation from my peers: Why were we taught about geometric shapes but never received any sort of training/instruction on critical financial concepts, such as budgeting? Even social media comically points out the irony in a lack of ‘parallelogram season’ and searing reality of tax season. My Classroom Economy is not only fighting for an admirable cause, but also offers many opportunities to build leadership, project management, and relationship-building skills. I wanted in!

Fast forward through my senior year of college, my first full year of employment with Vanguard, and to steadily increasing my involvement with My Classroom Economy. Today, I serve as Project Manager for two expansions of the program, My Home and My Group Economy. My role in My Classroom Economy has helped me just as much as it’s helped our community.

Portrait of Vanguard crewmember Kylie

If at any point while reading this, you were reminded of a time your interest was sparked in your workplace by a non-direct-job experience (i.e. something you are not compensated for) and you’re wondering if it is worth pursuing, here are reasons to raise your hand for that activity:

Validation in impactful work

Sometimes the most rewarding jobs are the ones you do not because you are being compensated but because you care. When you care about something you feel good contributing your time and energy to it. And thankfully, your professional development has helped you build upon valuable skills, which in the end, feels validating when you’re tapping into them for an altruistic cause.

Skill-building for future compensatory experiences & safe space to fail

Flipping what I just said on its head, while you have a ton of valuable skills to offer, you may not always accurately assess your utility. We are biased creatures and while you may think a job is perfect for you, volunteerism is a way to test out your interests and skills before jumping into a long-term role. Volunteerism offers exposure to skills and situations that teach you what you can do versus what you can do well. Capitalize on the chance to try ideas and challenge yourself in a safe space.

Cross-functional teamwork

Working with individuals from various disciplines is critical to the workplace of today. In a volunteer network, you can work regularly with individuals in roles from client-facing to IT development. Building relationships through cross-functional teamwork is beneficial to build your network and a fun way to learn about what other people do. It’s a way to research other types of roles within your company and can offer a ton of insight you would not otherwise have access to.

Bottom line: If you find something you are passionate about, have fun while getting invaluable experience for your long-term career. Stop sitting on your hands – raise them instead.

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