I consider myself a life-long volunteer. I've always been committed to giving of myself where and how I can. Through my own experiences with volunteering I've noticed that now, more than ever, there is a growing number of young professionals -- Generation Y and beyond -- taking time to volunteer as well.
The benefits of volunteering obviously are not age-discriminative. However, speaking from experience, there are a number of reasons that it's important to make commitments to nonprofits and volunteer as a young professional.
Establish and expand your network. People talk a lot about networking and expanding your professional Rolodex. I know many individuals who leveraged their volunteer experiences into full-time positions, or people who have used their volunteer coordinators as references when applying for jobs.
Volunteering not only gives you the opportunity to make contacts in the business world, but also an opportunity to meet contacts to add to your personal circle of friends as well. For example, after college, many young professionals find themselves starting a new job in a new city. Sometimes making this transition is easy, other times it's a challenge. Volunteering is a great way to meet a variety of people with similar interests.
Build your resume. Your resume -- an ever-evolving document -- has the potential to be improved through each activity or volunteer opportunity. By choosing the right opportunity you can gain experience and refine your skills in any desired field.
Online sites, such as WomenOnCall.org, help volunteers to find volunteer opportunities with nonprofits to use their professional skills to give back. For example, an advertising professional who volunteers their time coming up with a campaign for a nonprofit fundraiser could reference that activity in interviews, using the materials as a portfolio piece. On the flip side, volunteering also gives you the opportunity to gain experience in areas you're interested in outside of your "day job." An accountant with a passion for photography could volunteer their time taking and developing images for nonprofits -- possibly opening new career avenues.
Volunteering your professional skills is good for nonprofits as well -- skills-based volunteering allows these organizations to stretch their budgets by leveraging the professional skills of their volunteers.
Finding balance. It's very easy to get caught up in work and not pay attention to or make time for other equally important parts of life. Time spent in your 20's and early 30's is a good time to evaluate who and what these important elements of life are to you. Work, family, friends and so on -- this balancing act can include different things for different people.
However, speaking from experience, I highly recommend adding volunteering to your well-rounded list. How you choose to volunteer may change as you get older, but by making giving back a priority early on, you set a precedent for yourself that giving time to worthwhile organizations and causes is a vital part of your own personal development as well.
The rewards of volunteering are endless, far too lengthy for me to try and list here. But, as a young professional, whether you volunteer for personal reasons, some of the points I mentioned here, or a combination of these and other factors -- getting out and actually volunteering, making a difference, has a great personal return on investment!