Power Skills: How Volunteerism Shapes Professional Success

Oct 1, 2006
This study on volunteerism was administered from June 15, 2005 through August 31, 2005. The study was conducted to ascertain when, how and why women in professional leadership capacities participate in volunteer and community-based endeavors outside of their careers. Our goal was to investigate the link between early volunteerism and the development of key work skills -- "power skills" -- that are enhanced throughout one's professional career. Having established that link, a further purpose of the study is to encourage businesses and individuals to value and foster nonprofit involvement as a cost-effective avenue of professional development that benefits the business, the employee and the community at large. Participants in our survey overwhelmingly identify as volunteers. While all are well established working professionals, most are highly involved in more than one community activity. Those who are at the peak of their careers are also the leaders in their chosen nonprofit endeavors. Most of these peak, high-performing women have been involved in the community for the majority of their lives and were greatly influenced by other family members (sometimes, over several generations), small town environments and early community service opportunities, such as scouting. Participants frequently "got hooked" on volunteerism during college, graduate school or early in their careers because of a need to connect for networking reasons (business and social) or a need to "give back." Other participants' choice of volunteer involvements was influenced by a personal challenge or family illness. Most participants indicated a desire to pass along to their children a commitment to community service. Of significance was the close correlation between skills acquired and honed through early nonprofit involvement and participants' advancement in their professional careers. Specific, technical business skills, such as financial and human resource management and strategic communications, were gained as participants learned to exert influence, garner cooperation from broad-based allies and build leadership skills and self-confidence. Some study participants attribute their confidence and business success more to their nonprofit endeavors than to their professional experience or formal training.
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