THE BLOG
11/26/2014 03:20 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2015

From Soup to Skills: The Best Ways to Volunteer on Thanksgiving

If giving back on Thanksgiving is something you consider a must-do, first let me tip my hat to you.

Now let's talk turkey.

Most people think about soup kitchens on Thanksgiving, and there's no doubt that helping at a homeless shelter is a terrific way to give back on this day, and any day. You can also take direct action by volunteering with The Salvation Army, Rescue Mission or your local church, synagogue or other place of worship.

Other volunteering ideas along these lines:

  • Deliver meals to people in need (contact Meals on Wheels)
  • Spread good cheer at a retirement home or hospital and put a smile on the face of someone lonely or sick (make arrangements ahead of time, of course)
  • Participate in a local "turkey trot" race that raises money for community causes
Whatever way you give back on Thanksgiving will generate some degree of community impact and make the world just a tiny bit better. Even if all you're doing is inviting someone who might be alone that day to join you at your Thanksgiving meal, extending your hand to others fuels the spirit of the occasion.

But just because the image of Thanksgiving volunteering is geared towards basic direct action like serving soup, don't stop there. Lending your skills to nonprofits is a gift that these organizations -- and the people they serve -- will be thankful for long after the holiday has ended.

So take a step back and consider what skills you can leverage, or what skills you'd like to learn, to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate this Thanksgiving.

Of course, finding a pro bono volunteering opportunity that matches these skills might take a little more work than just showing up at a shelter. If your company has a volunteer program, you might be able to quickly source pro bono opportunities through their volunteering platform.

But if you're looking for a quick skills-based hit on your own, LinkedIn now makes it easy to source pro bono opportunities in your area.

According to LinkedIn, 82 percent of surveyed members want to volunteer their time and skills. So the company created LinkedIn for Volunteers to create an efficient marketplace of causes, skills and ideas.

When you add the Volunteer and Causes section to your LinkedIn profile, you help promote the issues and nonprofits that are important to you while also inviting relevant volunteer opportunities to be funneled to you through your network. People who volunteer through skills-based volunteering aren't just matching their skills to an opportunity; they're also building skills in the process. If you're looking to strengthen skills or learn new ones, skills-based volunteering offers an ideal platform to stretch your abilities or keep your existing talents up to date.

Beyond that, LinkedIn's board opportunity section encourages nonprofit board participation. This tool makes it easy for nonprofits to find the right leaders for their board, and for qualified people who are passionate about particular causes to serve on the boards that need them.

Whether skills-based or not, volunteering is an important expression of your place in the world, and you can count on getting back more than you give. Beyond a sense of personal fulfillment and connection with others, volunteering also yields tangible personal benefits. LinkedIn notes that 41 percent of LinkedIn hiring managers consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience when evaluating candidates. The company also found that 20% of hiring managers in the U.S. agree they have hired a candidate because of their volunteer work experience, and unemployed people who volunteer are 27 percent more likely to be hired than people who do not volunteer.

This Thanksgiving, find a way to help your community so that everyone feels well-fed and embraced. Pour the soup -- but also consider pouring your skills into volunteering to magnify the value of your contribution.