One of the best ways to expand your network, strengthen your skills, and raise your profile is to find an opportunity to volunteer within your community.  Whether you do it as part of an organized company-wide effort or you seek out an opportunity on your own, giving back to the community is an additional way you can use your talents and align yourself with a cause that means more than any financial gain can offer.  If you have your eye on a leadership position but lack the opportunity to demonstrate your skills in your current position, honing your talents at a local community service agency might just be your ticket to a better position professionally.

1. Find an organization that you feel passionate about. Think about what cause brings you the most joy and a sense that you make a difference, then look for an organization that addresses that need. Avoid choosing an organization simply because they have an impressive board of notable people.  Consider volunteering at a youth development program, support local artists or even work with the elderly. The possibilities are endless.

2. Hone your skills. Sometimes your current position does not always give you the room to develop the skills you may need for your dream career.  Volunteering offers the perfect scenario to explore a new field and demonstrate proficiency with new skills. If you want to be leader, offer to head up a project or committee, build your team and practice your leadership skills.

3. Strengthen teamwork  Sometimes you go into a volunteer opportunity to give and walk away having received so much more than you gave. Stay humble, work collaboratively, and always remember that you are only a few decisions away from being in a tough life challenge so never look down on those you serve.

4. Expand your network. This is the time to meet people in a non-threatening environment. Take the time to get to know your fellow volunteers and feel free to share your dreams and aspirations.

5. Be a team player  Volunteers are supposed to be a positive addition to organizations that need help. Make sure you are pleasant and easy to work with.  Too many volunteers come in with a know-it-all attitude and miss the true gold that volunteer positions offer.

6. Manage power struggles, use your influence.  While volunteering, getting into a power struggle with the leaders or other volunteers is not the wisest decision.  If you are passionate about a particular viewpoint that can benefit the nonprofit, then use your influencing skills to demonstrate the need and benefits for your ideas.

7. Make a commitment and show up. Many nonprofit organizations rely heavily on volunteers to run their programs. When you commit to a schedule, treat it with the same respect you would give a paid position and show up regularly.

8. Go the extra mile.  Don’t just do what you are asked to do; look for ways you can give even more.  Many nonprofits have a needs list a mile long and a lot of items on the list require expertise more than money.  Offer your expertise and enlist the help of your friends and colleagues.

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