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Working Wise: Volunteering and Work

Dear Working Wise,

I am considering volunteering for a local non-profit board. Is this something that can help boost my career? Should I inform my employer before I agree?
Signed, Volunteer

April 12, 2017

Dear Volunteer,

It’s probably a good idea to tell your employer about the volunteer role. There may be conflicts of interest between your work and volunteer roles. Your employer may also be pleasantly surprised and excited about the new contacts and skills that you will develop.

Volunteering is a great way to refine your work-related skills and learn new skills. Members of community boards are often called on for a variety of executive duties—giving you the chance to stretch your abilities and increase your experience.

Volunteering also offers you the chance to make business contacts and raise the profile of your organization. You may learn new technical skills and develop transferable people skills necessary for career success. Some non-profit organizations will even cover some of the cost of specialized training for board members or volunteers, which in turn may benefit your employer.

And, giving back to your community may increase your job satisfaction. People tend to feel better about their jobs when they feel better about their lives. For all these reasons, volunteering can actually make you a more valuable employee to your current employer.

However, before you accept your new role, you should find out:

  1. How much time are they asking for?
  2. What is your job description? Is it a good fit?
  3. What are your legal liabilities as a volunteer?
  4. Do they want you to ask your employer for donations?
  5. Are there any potential conflicts of interest with your work?
  6. Do they want you to speak publicly on behalf of the organization?
  7. Will your volunteer role require your attention during working hours? If so, how much time? How often? How much notice will you be given that you need to take time off work?
  8. How will volunteering affect your job if you need to take time off? Will your pay be deducted? Will you be able to make up the time in some other way?
  9. How will volunteering affect your standing at work? Will it hurt your prospects for advancement, raises or interesting projects?
  10. What happens if you get hurt at your volunteer job? How will that affect your paid job?
  11. Has a safety and hazard assessment been done for this role? Are there safe work practices to follow?

Checking with your employer first and being prepared to answer these kinds of questions will reassure your employer that you have thought this through and have your employer’s needs and interests in mind.

Maintain an open dialogue with your employer about your volunteer activities. Keeping the lines of communication open will ensure your employer is supportive of your involvement and is aware of the kinds of new skills and experiences that you are bringing back with you to work. Your first responsibility is to your employer, so particularly if the volunteering means taking time off work, your employer’s agreement and support is critical.

For more tips on volunteering and how it can help enhance your career, read the following Alis articles:

National Volunteer Week is the last week of April. For more information on volunteering and National Volunteer Week, visit

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/asiseeit

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