04/01/2016 - At first glance, volunteerism seems pretty straightforward: you donate your nutrition expertise and skills to causes that make the world a better place. You do it because giving back to your community is the right thing to do. Maybe it's a chance to get your name out there and make some connections. And, volunteering can be a lot of fun, too.
Peeling back a layer or two on the topic, however, reveals a hot-button issue surrounding some methods and strategies of volunteerism that continue to spark debates and lively discussions within the dietetics profession.
The debate is in the same vein as the adage "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?" In other words, while some causes are worthwhile, could working for free today make it harder for you to get paid tomorrow?
Spotting a professional pitfall (disguised as a good deed or golden opportunity) begins with being an inquisitive and informed volunteer. Success hinges on knowing what you want, knowing what an organization expects and knowing how much you can — and should — give of yourself.
Volunteering Your Services vs. Giving Away Your Services
The party line among many Academy members is "don't," as in don't give services away for free.
There's little argument that volunteering your expertise to good causes is time well spent. After all, the dietetics profession innately attracts people who wish to make a difference in others' lives. But that same quality can also make us softies when it comes to considering volunteer requests.
So how do you know when you're supporting a worthy cause and when you're volunteering at your own expense? The difference seems to be when organizations with the means to pay get someone to share their expertise for free. Nonetheless, many Academy members donate their time and services as a way to network and make contacts – and sometimes it works.
Looking Before You Leap
To increase the chances that our profession and our services are valued and appreciated, look before you leap into offering your know-how for no pay.
- Shop around for an organization that delivers a good experience.
- Just give them a teaser of your services.
- Put a value on your donation and submit an invoice for what the work would have cost, so organizations understand the value of your work and your time.
- Scrutinize "business-building" opportunities, and discuss these projects in length if a company discusses an opportunity for paid projects in the future.
- Protect yourself and make sure you are adequately covered on the insurance front.
- Have fun — as enjoyment and satisfaction should be at the very core of the volunteer experience.
3 Reasons to Volunteer
Knowing why you are selecting a certain volunteer opportunity may help you determine how much and to what extent you share your skills and expertise.
Volunteering for the greater good. Many of us have causes near and dear to our hearts and donate our expertise to help move them forward. Our only motivation for volunteering is to make things better. The organizations that tend to these issues are most often nonprofit groups with fairly limited financial and human resources.
Volunteering to meet personal goals. Volunteer opportunities can also help satisfy personal ambitions, such as meeting people with shared interests or learning and honing certain types of skills.
Volunteering for business development. There's a networking adage: "It's not who you know, but who knows you." Strategically speaking, volunteering can be an excellent business development and marketing practice. Many great jobs and valuable connections have come by way of volunteering.