The Value of Volunteering

A tip written by: Riley Balikian, Illinois State Geological Survey

Volunteering is a great way to serve your community and to support causes you care about. In 2015 (the last year for which data is available), volunteering contributed over $180 billion to the U.S. economy; volunteers are valuable to the organizations with which they work.

Beyond helping others, volunteering provides specific benefits to young professionals aiming to increase their professional profile. Finding a job after earning a degree can be difficult. Volunteering can help fill a "résumé gap" and can help you learn skills that will be useful for future work. It can also signal to potential employers and committees that you are a person of integrity and character. In a recent survey of people in positions of hiring, 82% of respondents said they would be more likely to choose a candidate with volunteer experience and 85% said they would be willing to look over other résumé "flaws" when volunteer work is included on a résumé.

For new graduates, volunteering can be essential both as a way to lengthen and broaden their experience. Not only will volunteering help you learn new skills or hone existing ones, it can connect you with a network of respected people and organizations doing important work. Some of these respected leaders can later serve as references, or may be able to connect you to other leaders. As you build up your network, you will begin to gain more and more rapport within these communities to the point that you will be considered a trusted leader.

When you volunteer with an organization, it also gives you the opportunity to represent something greater than yourself. This is useful as you approach funding organizations, political leaders, community figureheads, and potentially publication outlets (this can be especially important if you are doing community-based research).

For young professionals in the geosciences, there are also many opportunities to volunteer with professional organizations, such as AGU, GSA, or AAAS. Volunteering as a student or recent graduate can help connect you connect with more established geoscientists and with your peers. As you gain more experience, volunteering to serve in leadership positions within these and similar organizations is a great way to network and shape the direction of science as a whole!

Further resources on the benefits of volunteering:
Stanford Social Innovation Review article
Volunteering is an essential American value