Do Good and Do Well for Yourself

Volunteer for your community—and your career goals

Volunteering your time is the epitome of altruism, but a related benefit to your selfless service is that it can also give you a career boost.

A study by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) (PDF) found that “volunteering is associated with a 27% increase in odds of employment.” In addition to giving you an edge for a new job or career change, volunteering fosters community where you may already work or live. Perhaps that’s why more than 60 million Americans still found time to volunteer during the height of a global pandemic.

To get the most out of volunteering your time, it’s best to do some preliminary thinking and planning.

The first thing to do when approaching volunteerism from a position of self-interest is self-investigation. What do you have to offer and what do you want to gain? Is your goal personal enrichment, professional development, or supplementing your application to a graduate, medical or other professional school? Is your immediate professional goal to work with a particular population? Or are you approaching volunteering as a long game and for the betterment of all?

Let’s break this down.


Volunteer Impact: Jacquelyn Murray

Circular photo of Certificate Program in Personal Financial Planning graduate Jacquelyn Murray

“While living in Southern California during her own personal financial planning career movement, Jacquelyn Murray began mentoring as part of Big Brothers Big Sisters. While her volunteering involvement didn’t necessarily focus on aiding in financial goals, she did provide her “little sister” financial and loan advice when the topic was brought up. “We talk about many subjects, but one main topic is finance and money. She is going to be quite successful, I have no doubt.”


Branding Yourself

By building your confidence and credibility, volunteering helps you to take on new challenges, overcome obstacles and achieve meaningful results. It shows potential employers that you are proactive, resourceful and capable of making a positive impact.

When it comes to working in a human services role, volunteering with the same community in which you want to work shows your commitment to serving this population, which inevitably leads to an increase in trust. If you are working with at-risk individuals or families in your community, familiarity can aid in the progress you make on the job.

Active engagement can also enhance your professional image and increase your visibility within your industry or community. By gaining valuable skills and expanding your network, you are better able to position yourself for success in your chosen field.

Take, for example, Professional Sequence in Editing graduate Megan Rupert. “I started by offering free ‘light editing’ to friends for low-stakes projects they had at work, something an instructor essentially encouraged us to consider,” Megan relates.

“That was really excellent advice. The exercises we were doing for coursework were very practical and relevant, but adding extracurricular practice with actual projects was really valuable not only for my confidence, but also for the scope of my experience. By the time I was done with the Professional Sequence in Editing, I was able to take myself more seriously with public-facing text and was much more prepared to bill for my services.”

Boosting Your Résumé's Attractiveness

Volunteering shows your motivation, a quality that employers prize and one that can open doors to new opportunities. As a volunteer, you are demonstrating that you are an involved person who is potentially a good team player, as well as showing your commitment to social responsibility and community engagement. It can also strengthen your résumé and set you apart from other job applicants by highlighting your diverse experiences and skills—mirroring your seriousness about the field.

For those wanting to further their education, volunteering also provides a clearer understanding of the type of graduate or professional school you want to apply to and the role you want to play in your future career.

A Deloitte survey, Building Leadership Skills Through Volunteering, found that “82% of respondents said they would be more likely to choose a candidate with volunteer experience on their résumé.”

Even better if your volunteering opens doors to new career opportunities and advancement, such as a paid position within the organization you volunteer for or relevant experience that is necessary to excel in your field.


Volunteer Impact: Lia Mezzio

Circular photo of Professional Sequence in Editing graduate Lia Mezzio

Already volunteering as a mentor with Oakland Promise to boost her résumé while she completed the Professional Sequence in Editing to make her a stronger candidate, Lia Mezzio was eager to be hired by the organization and continue to help others thrive. Once their development coordinator, Lia utilized her newly refined editing skills, making a smooth career transition.


The Skills-Based Volunteer

Beyond just having a volunteer stint on your résumé, it’s even more helpful to have targeted volunteer experience that matches the skills that you would use in your dream job.

Volunteering offers valuable hands-on experience that can complement your education and professional background. It provides opportunities to apply your knowledge and hands-on skills in real-world settings, demonstrating your competence and readiness for professional roles. Volunteering allows you to not only work on your hard skills, but also people skills—communication, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving and project management are all people skills companies look for.

Post-Baccalaureate Health Professions Program alumna Charlotte Young was able to put people skills to use during her volunteer work at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif., during the pandemic. It was also around this time when she recognized the need to get back to following her dream of becoming a physician and to boost her academic portfolio for her next steps.

Related: The Hybrid Role—Fusing Technical and Soft Skills, Part 1

That’s just one example of finding the right nonprofit organization to use your knowledge and skills while benefiting yourself and others. If you are well-situated in your desired field, you might not think to volunteer, but your skills are transferable to other interests.


Volunteer Impact: Cecilia Yu

Circular photo of Certificate Program in Project Management graduate Cecilia Yu

It’s not only applicable to a science or business environment—project management can carry over into life goals. Cecilia Yu uses her project management skills volunteering with Girls on the Run Bay Area (GOTR). “I help increase awareness of the program by participating in a variety of strategic and fundraising initiatives to deepen the outreach of GOTR. It brings me great joy to be serving as a young professional board member and to be applying my project management skills outside of work,” says Cecilia, who is a Certificate Program in Project Management graduate.


Check out, which aims to match professionals with nonprofits based on their skills, availability and interests. Catchafire has different account categories for volunteers, social-good companies and grantmakers. The organization even helps to shape nonprofit strategies and plans in order to make the most of the volunteer opportunities.

Common Impact, which centers its efforts primarily in the Northeast, is another such company that strives to align business goals with social purpose by matching nonprofits with skilled volunteers.


Volunteer Impact: Sana Maqsood

Circular photo of UX Design program graduate Sana Maqsood

Sana Maqsood credits that mentoring opportunity for helping guide her during her career transition to design. She even suggests where others can find their own mentor outside of the workplace: Amazing Design People List (ADPList), one of the many organizations to which Sana gives back to the UX design community through volunteering.


Find the Right Career for You Through Volunteering

Not everyone picks the right college major and slides seamlessly into the field of their dreams. You learn, you evolve and sometimes you find out later on what is your true calling. In this case, volunteering is a great way to gain experience in that new field.

By volunteering in different industries, sectors and roles, you gain firsthand experiences and insights, helping you make a more informed career decision. To align your philanthropy with your career goals, first research your desired career. Figure out what the roles and responsibilities are. Then take a few classes to prepare you for those duties.

Volunteering is a great next step to give you more data points to determine if this career is really the best fit for you.


Volunteer Impact: Mark Love

Certificate Program in Human Resource Management graduate Mark Love

“I had the opportunity to join Organizing for America, which was the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign organization for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. During the campaign, I enjoyed organizing community members to achieve a common goal. When the campaign ended, I considered how I could incorporate similar aspects of leadership and community building into my career. My decision led me to become a labor relations representative (LRR).” —Mark Love, Certificate Program in Human Resource Management graduate


Volunteering can lead to a new career!

Elaine Chan’s “next act” as an independent educational consultant came to light while volunteering at her son's high school as a writing coach. She recalls, “I met students who reminded me of my younger self, particularly students from low-income households and those who are first in their families to attend college. I thought about the under-represented students whom I was helping at Berkeley High and it immediately felt right to pursue [the Certificate Program in College Admissions and Career Planning].”

Or, in the case of Paulette Sarmiento, who earned her undergraduate degree in marketing, volunteering in one industry can open your eyes to where your true passions lie—or maybe don’t lie.

“I decided to volunteer with SF New Tech to gain an understanding of new technologies, software as a service and startup companies in San Francisco,” Paulette says. “I also learned that building and maintaining relationships with others is very important because I can seek advice for future decisions that can impact my career.”

Paulette is now an interior designer.

Meet Your New Co-Workers

Growing your professional network is another great side benefit to your volunteer gig. It doesn’t have to be super formal, either. There are Meetup groups specifically geared toward regional and interest-based people looking to meet other philanthropic-minded people.

Connecting with people from diverse backgrounds—including other volunteers, staff members and community leaders—allows you to expand your professional network. These connections can lead to job referrals, mentorship opportunities and professional recommendations, as well as provide a sense of belonging.

The Silicon Valley Volunteers Meetup group has more than 3,000 members. A San Francisco group called Get Volunteering has more than 6,000 people looking to connect with their communities.


Volunteer Impact: Sandeep Gandhi

Sandeep Gandhi

“I had also been volunteering as a financial literacy instructor at Narika's Self-Empowerment and Economic Development (SEED) Program, which is a local nonprofit organization, and realized I could add a lot more value to the participants if I had a broader knowledge of personal financial planning than just the investing piece.” —Sandeep Gandhi, Certificate Program in Personal Financial Planning graduate


Make a Personal Investment in Yourself

There’s so much that your volunteering offers organizations, but don’t forget that it also provides opportunities for your personal development and growth—boosting your self-esteem and overall well-being!

Ask yourself, “How ‘intense’ do I want my level of volunteer work to be?” Know your limits on what you are ready for emotionally—and time-wise—and that your supervisor knows what those limits are.

“We are meant to give back to our communities, especially those of us who have the capacity to,” says Certificate Program in Construction Management and Leadership graduate Alex Guidici, who volunteers with Uhuru Food & Pies in Oakland as a market coordinator.

“Volunteer work does not only elevate others, but it uplifts ourselves, as well. The benefits are lasting. I grew up in Piedmont—a small, well-resourced town in the middle of Oakland—and the struggles in Oakland surrounded me from that perspective. Definitely not firsthand experience, but it is where my passion for this comes from. Black Oakland is a major part of East Bay life, and therefore close to my heart.”

Get Started

With so many options available for volunteering, where do you start?

For those who are interested in pursuing health or human services—such as working directly with and/or treating a specific population—applied, “direct service” settings will provide the most benefit. However, you will not be expected to become an expert in treating people in your volunteer role. Instead, you will more likely be asked to serve as advocates, mentors or tutors, or simply spend time with clients who are facing challenges.

If you want to work with specific populations in your community (such as special-needs children, at-risk individuals, school-aged children, the elderly, etc.), then you might choose to volunteer with an organization geared toward helping them.

However, if your volunteering goals are more for general fulfillment, one terrific clearinghouse to find a volunteer gig in your desired field is the CNCS website Serve.Gov. You can search for volunteer opportunities in your locale and in specific categories such as tax help, graphic design or data analysis.

VolunteerMatch is a nonprofit that posts lots of unpaid positions, mostly specializing in web services.

United Way is a charitable behemoth, and it organizes a wide variety of volunteering opportunities on its website. There are career benefits to aligning yourself with such a large organization: The name recognition that United Way has in the philanthropic market is easily transferable across disciplines and regions.

If you want to gain new skills to land that skill-building volunteer position, explore our wide array of courses and certificates.


Volunteer Impact: Julie Hooper

Julie Hooper

“I got my current position in clinical research at UCSF by volunteering for nine months before getting hired on.”—Julie Hooper, Post-Baccalaureate Health Professions Program alumna