United Way Emerging Leaders Blog
As a young professional, I hear a lot of talk about the importance of maintaining a work-life balance. Every time I hear this, though, I always feel like an essential third element is missing for a truly balanced life: community. Because as important as networking and continued education are to developing our careers, and quality time spent with friends and family is to building our personal lives, volunteering and philanthropic leadership are vital for shaping the world in which we both work and live.
This is why I was drawn to the United Way’s Emerging Leaders program. Our community has so many wonderful industry-focused organizations and young professional groups dedicated to career advancement and education, but finding one that concentrates on developing the philanthropic capabilities of the next generation of leaders in our community is unique.
The statistics show time and again that the youngest generations of workers are under-represented in community service. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, while an already low 30 percent of all professionals volunteer, less than 20 percent of those in their 20s donate their time with nonprofit organizations. And when it comes to driving the futures of those organizations, less than 2 percent of nonprofit board members are under 30. Simply put, young professionals are not claiming their seats at the community table.
While I would never argue that nonprofits do not benefit greatly from the experience and expertise of older volunteers, I also know young professionals can bring fresh ideas, enthusiasm and passion that can boost an organization to new levels and in front of new audiences. Beyond that, volunteering gives as much back to professionals as it asks. Yet too many young professionals are missing out. Missing out on the chance to make their own communities better, as well as benefit from the experiences and connections volunteering can offer, such as:
1. Developing skills you may not have the opportunity to access in your job.
While you may bring a skillset developed in your day job to your nonprofit volunteer or board work, that’s certainly not the end of the story. More often than not, you will also have the opportunity to choose the committees and activities you want to dedicate your time to, allowing you to develop new skills and use your other talents. All of which enhance your resume, as well as your quality of life.
2. Taking on a leadership role not available to you in your current position.
Young professionals often find themselves fairly low on the totem pole, supporting the projects of their superiors instead of leading their own teams. Volunteering allows you to break out of your organizational chart—be a project lead, direct the focus of a committee, or even shape the future of the organization’s work serving on the board. All duties that translate to work experience.
3. Networking with other professionals with strong community focus.
One of the great things about volunteering is the chance to interact with people who are not necessarily in your current professional network. Often, even at outside networking or professional events, you find yourself talking to the same groups of people. But nonprofit volunteering can introduce you to a whole new networking circle—people that do not attend the industry events and professional development workshops that your career drives you towards. Expanding your network gives you access to mentors and opportunities you never had before.
4. Making your community a better place to live…and work.
Giving back feels good—in fact there are proven mental and physical health benefits to giving back. Beyond that, it lets you shape the world you live in—locally, nationally or globally.
The United Way already does such amazing work for this community—fighting childhood obesity in its Fit Kids project, improving literacy (and ultimately graduation) rates amongst school children with its STAR Readers project, and ensuring foster youth have the financial literacy to take on adulthood, to name just a few. By offering the Emerging Leaders program, the United Way is also taking a proactive approach to shaping the next generation of philanthropic voices in our region, and I’m honored to be a part of this amazing group of people.
Angela Criser is the CFO for Sacramento-based marketing agency, 3fold Communications, where giving back to the community is not only encouraged, but part of the business plan. She is personally dedicated to volunteering and supporting the UWCCR programs, as well as working with several other community organizations throughout the region.