Americans Volunteer in DrovesJune 7, 2010 - 9:40 AM | by: Molly Line
Amid tough economic times Americans are volunteering in droves.
While a generous spirit lies at the heart of why many people give their time, the recession is playing a clear role as laid off workers and soon-to-be job seekers look for meaning and a way to develop new skills in a competitive job market.
“There is an altruistic reason they might engage in volunteerism. They might want to stay engaged with community and use the time that they have to give back,” said Bethany Godsoe, Executive Director of the Research Center for Leadership in Action at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. “But, at the same time, it is a smart professional move in terms of building their resume.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an additional 1.5 million people jumped into the nationwide volunteer pool between September 2008 and 2009, a trend that began at the start of the recession.
David Halloran is a longtime volunteer with New York Cares, a service organization that helps match volunteers with projects.
“One of the great things that I feel about volunteering when you are unemployed is that it puts something on your resume that you are doing,” said Halloran. “If you have a gap of several months on your resume, it says I am not staying at home sitting on my Xbox. I am actually going out and doing something and making a contribution to the community and developing new skills at the same time.”
Wendy Metz spent 10 years in marketing before being laid off. She decided to offer her expertise to the New England Aquarium while between jobs.
“I really wanted to use my skills and talents where I could help an organization,” said Metz. “I’ve had an opportunity to work on a couple programs to both bring in revenues and do a little bit of fundraising as well as increase the awareness and exposure for the North Atlantic Right Whale Program.”
It’s a refreshing departure from her usual work.
“My experience has been more on the corporate side so this is new for me,” said Metz who thinks the time she spent volunteering could lead to new adventures and maybe a new job. “I have to say I’m really excited about the possibility and the opportunity of perhaps changing gears and working for a place like the New England Aquarium or with Marine Conservation in some way.”
Godsoe says volunteering can pay off- literally- helping job seekers prove themselves to prospective employers.
“88% of people who are volunteering in this kind of situation where they are looking for work do believe it is going to help them get a job so they are doing it with some sense of purpose,” said Godsoe. “What we also know is that employers prefer to hire people they know. People that they have tested in some way. It reduces time in hiring and expenses in hiring.”