Translating Volunteer Experiences to Workplace Credentials
Need ideas for parlaying volunteer hours into skills and experiences valued by employers? Even if you haven’t received a paycheck in exchange for creative ideas, event planning, or some equally worthy contribution of time and talent, you have proven capabilities that could be useful to the right organization.
Here are a few ways to present your volunteer experience on your résumé, as an integral part or valuable addition to your professional credentials:
Substitute volunteer experience for paid work experience
-- useful for those who may have no recent work experience and those who may have alternated between periods of paid and volunteer work, such as some soon-to-be college graduates, stay-at-home parents, and those who hadn’t intended to return to the workforce but are now looking for work.
Place volunteer experience under “Experience” and, just as you’d state your title, employer, and dates of employment for a traditional position, list your volunteer titles (such as "Volunteer/Treasurer" or just "Volunteer") along with sponsoring organizations and relevant dates.
Ideally, these volunteer positions involved a significant time commitment (an average of 5 hours per week, for example, or regular participation over several years); concentrated effort over a certain period of time (planning a major fundraiser over 3-6 months); and/or a major responsibility.
Elaborate on your duties and accomplishments:
Volunteer/Treasurer, Westwood Civic Club, Charlotte, NC, 2005-Present
- Administer financial controls for nonprofit organization.
- Develop annual budgets, produce financial reports with actual vs. budget comparisons, and present financial status at general meetings.
- Receive and deposit proceeds from fundraisers; disburse funds for authorized expenses; review and reconcile bank statements.
- Prepare and file Form 990s.
PTA President, Johnsonville Elementary School, Johnsonville, SC, 2003-2005
- Provided leadership to board members, committee chairpersons, and 600+ parent volunteers in all areas including fundraising, hospitality, and membership.
- Collaborated with administrators, teachers, and parents to define and prioritize school needs.
- Directed the development of budgets and approval of all expenditures.
- Chaired board meetings and made presentations to large groups of up to 400 people.
- Made annual presentations to the county Board of Education, discussing school accomplishments and needs as well as providing parent perspectives on varied topics.
- Directed fundraising projects that generated $25K+ in profit each school year, the most profitable in the school’s history; funded 75% of playground equipment.
- Achieved consistent increases in parent membership.
Volunteer, Central Medical Center, Beverly, TN, Summers 1999-2003
- Provided support to multiple departments such as Neurosurgery, Emergency, Psychiatry, Pharmacy, and Radiology.
- Completed varied assignments to meet continually changing departmental needs that included organizing information packets, visiting patients, answering phones, and obtaining information from medical journals.
- Worked 350+ volunteer hours and earned Volunteer Service Award.
Complement your work experience with volunteer experience
-- useful for those who have valuable skills that may not be used on the job, want to add dimension to a professional background, or need to show the flexibility of being able to work in different environments.
If you have 2-3 volunteer positions using skills that you want to highlight, create a heading such as “Community Activities” and list your experiences there. Mention as much detail that you need to show that you have, for example, organizational, teaching, marketing, or design skills:
- Event Planner, Raskin Community Center, Raskin, SC, 2005-Present: Plan and coordinate special events to include defining event themes, selecting décor and menus, engaging service providers, and overseeing onsite activities.
- Technology Instructor, Helping Hands, Chapel Hill, NC, Fall Semester 2004: Taught basic computer skills for office applications and Internet research to senior adults. Initiated contact with clients and scheduled meeting times to arrange in-home instruction.
- Founder/Program Leader, Late-Night Basketball, Marion, NC, 2006-2008: Spearheaded the launch of a late-night basketball program for at-risk youth. Promoted activities to community members through neighborhood visits and coordination with churches. Grew program from its inception to 50+ youth participants.
- Volunteer, Theatre in the Village, Charleston, SC: Researched and analyzed The African Queen, and advised the director on costume ideas and methods of interpreting the movie for the stage; served as stage manager for Misalliance; appeared as an actress in numerous productions.
You don’t have to give details about volunteer experiences. If you just want to show that you are active in the community or support certain causes, you can list the basics:
- Volunteer Firefighter
- Pilot for all-volunteer Iditarod Air Force, 2004-Present
- Team Captain, MS Bike Tour, 3 years (23 team members, raised $30,000+ each year)
- Meals on Wheels (past volunteer)
Demonstrate leadership status
-- useful for those who want to show executive leadership capabilities.
Showcase a combination of board memberships and hands-on volunteer activities under a heading of "Community Involvement" or to highlight leadership positions only, list organization names under a heading of "Board Memberships":
- Board of Directors, Arts Council of Wilson County
- Weekly Volunteer, Jonesville Soup Kitchen
- Arts Council of Wilson County
- Hillman Foundation
There is intrinsic value in volunteering, meeting community needs that may otherwise be unmet, forming friendships with fellow volunteers and clients. And, you can learn how to do things, such as motivate people without (extra) pay or lead meetings that last just an hour, which may be helpful in career building but don't have to be detailed on a résumé. But if you're in the market for a job or a promotion, relevant volunteer experience can differentiate you and add to your credentials.