Home > The Master Plan > Growing your skillset by volunteering!

Growing your skillset by volunteering!

When I meet people who seem to know how to fix just about anything, I am always impressed by the depth and breadth of their knowledge.  If you don’t work as a handy man, how do you learn the ins and outs of construction and repair?  Back in college, I stumbled upon a way to learn new skills that you can use your whole life, for free!  It’s called volunteering and it changed my life.

Should I donate my money or my time?

I started seriously volunteering with a variety of organizations once I started college.  I spent a lot of free time helping out with a variety of events, so after a while I started thinking about the amount of money my time commitment was work?  Here’s how my thinking went.

I, the charity, and the community all win when I can maximize the efficiency of my contribution to the charitable organization.  As long as I could provide more value per hour of volunteer work to than what I could have earned elsewhere (minimum wage at Pizza Hut), it was a good choice to spend my time volunteering.  However, if the opposite was true, the best way to help the charity would be to work more hours and donate the money that I made.

Here it is in code…  If(volunteering value/hr > work value/hr); Then(Volunteer!); Else(Work and donate).

This worked out really well in college.  Although I was training to become an Engineer, I really didn’t have especially marketable skills, so by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, or at the local Boys and Girls club, my time was better spent that if I had just donated money from a job.

This all flipped around when I started getting paid a good, entry level salary.  I calculated that I could do more by just working more, than spending my time swinging a hammer.  Being able to contribute money to charitable organizations of my choosing is great, but after a while, I realized I didn’t have the equation quite right.

Learning skills by getting your hands dirty

By volunteering my time during college, my time had actually been working double duty.  Providing sweat equity by framing a house was only half of the benefit.  The other piece was that with each hour I volunteered, I was granted a new skill that I could take with me and grow for the rest of my life!

This is the reason that, even though most professionals make enough money that they’d be more useful to a charity by donating a chunk of their salary,  getting dirty and actually donating their time is so much more valuable for everyone involved.  By writing a check to the local food bank, I get a warm fuzzy feeling for a few minutes, but by preparing and ladling food for our countries neediest, we can better understand how those less fortunate than ourselves are forced to live every day.  A check doesn’t even get close…

Here are some of my favorite volunteer activities, and how we all benefited.

Habitat for Humanity: 

I’ve volunteered with Habitat since I was 16, doing everything from framing, or roofing, to demolition, to setting doors.  I absolutely love this organization because it has a simple goal that just takes a whole lot of hard work to accomplish.  They encourage you to try out new skills as long as your are safe and helpful.

Instead of using nail guns, they make their volunteers use hammers.  This may be mostly about safety, but I like to think it is because they want their volunteers to learn how to work really hard.  This is a principle that seems to be lost on the average American these days, and it makes you remember why you’re there.

Everything I know about home construction/operation comes from my experience with Habitat.  Not only have I helped to put up whole houses, I now have the skills necessary to renovate my own home or earn money doing it for other people.

Boys and Girls Clubs

Volunteering with children who need a role model is some of the most demanding and rewarding work I’ve ever done.  It requires being “present” with the kids at all time, as well as making sure everyone stays safe.  We would play games, draw with crayons, do some reading, or put on plays.

It gave these kids an opportunity to show off to an adult who is giving them their full, undivided attention.  But it also taught me how to effectively lead a group of children and keep everyone safe.  This skill is actually applicable to most companies and organizations.  It also taught me that I tend to take myself too seriously.  You realize that life is to short to spend working all the time, once you start building LEGO towers with 8 yr olds.

Know-how, Respect and Leadership

These are just a few examples of how volunteering enriches the lives of everyone involved and teaches us new skills.  So even though I could provide more monetary value to an organization by spending more time at my job, actually doing the job benefits us all.  So that’s why I try to spend a small percentage of my time each month helping others.  It’s a win-win-win (for the organizations, for the community, and for my own development).

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