How Volunteering Can Help Your Animal-Centered Career – And Where to Find the Best Opportunities
Volunteering with an animal welfare organization or rescue may not yield a paycheck, but it can offer a host of other benefits. From meeting people who can very well introduce you to your next employer (or be your next employer) to learning valuable skills, giving your time to a nonprofit charity can help build your career – and enhance your personal life.
Instead of viewing the volunteer experience as “Working for free” look at some of the following more intangible rewards you stand to gain – even if you commit just a few hours each month.
A Good Look Before the Big Leap
Situations don’t always materialize as expected. Have you ever experienced the letdown of planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip and building it up in your head . . .only to get there and have just a mediocre time?
Now imagine investing years of your life and thousands of dollars on college or training, then discovering the career you thought was a perfect match, doesn’t fit the ideal. It happens.
Before making a commitment, why not learn what the job is really about?
Even if you spend just a couple days a month at an animal welfare organization, you’ll begin to get insight into what the field is like – the duties, the environment, the types of people attracted to the career. Volunteering may not offer an exact replica of your future working environment, but can give you a better feel for what to expect.
Free Career Exploration
You may have your heart set on being a veterinarian. Or fundraising expert. Or shelter director. But what if there’s a job that’s an even better match for you – a job you may not have even knew existed? Volunteering let’s you test-drive different jobs before making a long-term commitment.
If you donate your time and services to an animal shelter or sanctuary, for instance, look at the options and departments you may be able to check out: Animal care, education, public relations, marketing, fundraising, writing, membership, special events, adoptions counseling, administrative.
An Insider’s Advantage
As a volunteer you may stand a better chance of learning about new positions before the public does. If your work has been stellar (and you should hopefully want to give your best even if you’re not getting paid), they’ll already be aware of the value you can bring to the organization. It’s less of a risk to hire a good volunteer who’s been vetted, than someone untested.
- Hook up with a national animal welfare organization. Ask if they work with volunteers at the grass-roots level.
- Search VolunteerMatch.org. This dynamic online database helps connect nonprofits with volunteers. I really like this site’s navigation – they make it simple to find gigs – both local and virtual-based.
- Check out Idealist.org. You can search for volunteer gigs, as well as internships and paying jobs with nonprofits.
- Aside from looking to local shelters and organizations, here are a few more suggestions . . .
Meet People Who May Know Other People
You’ll be meeting people. It’s not as scary as it sounds even if you’re an introvert . . .especially since people in animal advocacy tend to be kind (based on my experiences, and a completely subject statement, I know). Some of these new contacts may know someone who may know someone who needs to hire an employee just like you.
Meeting new people also means you’ll be exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking of things . . .while making new friends in the process.
Gain a Solid Job Reference
If you’ve been an awesome volunteer, you can ask for a job reference or letter of recommendation. Having a professional in the field – even better if that person is admired and respected – rave about your abilities is like getting a stamp of approval. And that can help you stand out to future employers.
It Looks Great in Print
If you’re applying for a job in an animal-related field, it might be beneficial to show that you have relevant experience – that you are willing to take the initiative, and have a good idea of what the job entails.
If you’re a writer or artist, it’s an opportunity to add quality clips to your portfolio. Do you want to enter the grantwriting field but have never written a grant proposal? The organization will want to see samples. This is your chance to shine.
Benefits That Go Beyond
We’re bombarded with so much negativity on a regular basis . . . it can get cause anyone who cares about animals, the environment, and other social issues, to feel powerless, overwhelmed and sad. I can testify to the fact that focusing on just one positive volunteer project help overcome some of these negative feelings.
You may not be able to fix every issue . . . heck, even hundreds or thousands of people working on a single project may experience defeat. But concentrating your efforts on one volunteer job or project (even if it seems small) not only makes a difference in the bigger scheme of things, but is also a sanity saver and helps you feel accomplished.
How has volunteering helped you either personally or in your career?