Less than 30% of Americans volunteer annually and the rate of volunteerism has steadily declined over the last few decades (Poon, 2019). Analyzing the statistics on volunteer activity, we find the majority of efforts are targeted toward food collection/distribution, general labor, transportation, and fundraising (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016), leaving an extremely limited portion of the volunteer labor force engaged in skills-based services. What exactly is skills-based volunteerism? According to AmeriCorps (n.d.), “Skills-based volunteering means leveraging the specialized skills and talents of individuals to strengthen the infrastructure of nonprofits, helping them build and sustain their capacity to successfully achieve their missions.” As a trained career service professional, you have a powerful opportunity to provide specialized services to the vulnerable members in your community—skills that are desperately needed.
Bridging the Gap
The need for career support is exhaustive and rampant. The pervasive income gap in the United States has continued to widen (Horowitz et al., 2020), and poverty rates—though on a downward trend—are still in the double-digits (Semega et al., 2020). Individuals hoping to improve their situation are met with substantial barriers to advancement perpetuated by the rising cost of higher education (Amour, 2020), as well as food, housing, and employment hardships caused by a global pandemic (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2021). As a career professional, you have the skills to provide direct and targeted support to the general population, however, these services can often be physically and/or financially inaccessible to many individuals who need them most. This is where skills-based volunteerism can have a profound impact. To help bridge the gap, begin by asking yourself, “Who are the individuals in my community who have high needs, but low access to services?” Some populations in your community that may fall into this category could include:
When considering outreach opportunities, begin with a cause you are particularly passionate about and search for nonprofits in your area that you may be interested in partnering with.
Leveraging Career Service Skills in Volunteerism
After identifying the vulnerable populations in your community, the next step is to determine what type of support is needed and brainstorm ideas for engagement. Try asking yourself, “What specific and targeted action can I take to satisfy an identified career support need?” As a career service professional, you likely have a myriad of tools, resources, training, advocacy, and outreach at your disposal to assist with:
How can these skills be leveraged to scaffold the support needs of your vulnerable community members? You might consider partnering with a youth center to deliver an interview workshop. Or you could provide resume building support to individuals at a women and children’s shelter. Perhaps you have a large professional network and would be able to connect a non-profit organization with a company who could supply necessary resources. Or maybe you could offer professional interpretation of career assessment results to veterans. This is truly at the heart of the work we do as career professionals and I encourage you to be as creative as possible when brainstorming opportunities to provide support. If you are having a tough time getting started in volunteerism, you can always begin by looking for opportunities where you can share existing material with those in need.
Letting go of the Time Barrier Excuse
Arguably, the greatest barrier to volunteering is the perceived lack of time; however, it’s important to remember that volunteer outreach may be:
When considering a new volunteer venture, it’s important to ask yourself: “How much time can I contribute and what modality is best?” Be honest about the time you can commit and look for opportunities that fit your availability and required delivery method. Don’t be afraid to keep looking until you find a position that is mutually beneficial. Remember, you do not have to shoulder the entire burden of support needs to be a valuable volunteer. Even a single workshop could have a profound impact on someone’s life.
A Call to Action
As a trained career service professional, you have an opportunity to utilize your unique skills to support the vulnerable members in your community through skills-based volunteerism. I encourage anyone reading this article to begin by asking these three questions:
Then, reach out and volunteer! Remember the old saying, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” So, what will you do?
AmeriCorps. (n.d.). Skills-based volunteering. https://www.nationalservice.gov/resources/member-and-volunteer-development/sbv
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016, February 25). Volunteering in the United States. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/volun.pdf
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2021, April 8). Tracking the covid-19 recession’s effect on food, housing, and employment hardships. https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/tracking-the-covid-19-recessions-effects-on-food-housing-and
Horowitz, J. M., Igielnik, R., & Kochhar, R. (2020, January 9). Most Americans say there is too much economic inequality in the U.S., but fewer than half call it a top priority. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/01/09/most-americans-say-there-is-too-much-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s-but-fewer-than-half-call-it-a-top-priority/
Poon, L. (2019, September 11). Why Americans stopped volunteering. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-12/america-has-a-post-9-11-volunteerism-slump
Semega, J., Kollar, M., Shrider, E. A., & Creamer, J. (2020, September 15). Income and poverty in the United States: 2019. United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2020/demo/p60-270.html
St. Amour, M. (2020, May 20). Report: Inequities, barriers remain for degree attainment. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2020/05/20/report-inequities-barriers-remain-degree-attainment
Cami Boettcher is a College & Career Counselor and National Certified Counselor with background education and experience in business administration. Cami is passionate about integrating volunteerism into her work and is always looking for opportunities to grow, develop, and engage. Please feel free to reach out and share your ideas with Cami at email@example.com or www.linkedin.com/in/camiboettcher