Exec. Volunteering: 7 Leveraging Ideas that Make it More than a Nice Thing to Do.

Last Friday night, I found myself in the back of a chauffeured Rolls Royce, being taken out by new friends for a wonderful evening in South Beach, FL. When I asked myself how I came to this moment in my life, one surprising word came back to me: volunteering.

There is no shortage of articles in the business media that tout the benefits to professionals of volunteering. Full disclosure: this will be another one, however, rather than simply touch on the feel-good element of “doing well by doing good” or the opportunities you will have to “hone” your already significant professional skills, we aim to get beyond the “why volunteer” question and, instead, focus on leveraging your volunteer activities strategically to significantly expand your network and sell your unique brand.

There are two life experiences in the 18 months that have lead me to want to write this article. 1) I was encouraged by a high-end international luxury firm in the summer of 2011 to build an American-based non-profit from scratch in an effort to help the company build their market in a very wealthy segment of the yachtsman’s market. This process has not only been incredibly rewarding and educational but it has allowed me to nearly double my own networking base—that is not insignificant after 25+ years in financial services–among highly affluent, smart, fun and generous people that I actually enjoy spending time with. What’s more what started as volunteerism has turned into a long-term paid consulting position.

The second experience that led me to want to explore this topic further was from working with one of my clients last year, who, after 30+ years in the industry, felt he had no natural market. I took this with a grain of skepticism; after all, as a long-time consultant, I expect to work with people with atypical prospecting challenges and often people aren’t aware of markets right under their nose. However, it was true! This particular client had put in a decades of time and had a lot of technical experience to offer but, indeed, had no market, natural or otherwise! I must admit I was stumped.

My client and I talked about all kinds of focus ideas and prospecting opportunities but the topic that we came back to the most was volunteering. Could my client find an interest that he was passionate enough about to offer at least an hour of his time a week or maybe a few hours a month? Several conversations later, “pets,” he was sure, was the ultimate answer. We uncovered a few organizations in his local area where he could spend some of his free time lending a hand and, in the process, meet people who share similar interests and may have a need for his professional advice and services.
The only problem was, he couldn’t take the next step to becoming a volunteer. He admitted he would rather cold call for a couple of hours rather than get out of his comfort zone and try something new. I haven’t come across too many financial professionals in my career that had this level of apathy to prospecting, but we all know they are out there. Even if they are reasonably social at work and home, they have elected an isolationist policy that will not allow them to reach their full potential socially or, often, professionally.

Fortunately there are also professionals who see volunteering as, not only fulfilling emotionally and endorphine-boosting, but also potentially rewarding, financially. They probably haven’t even stopped to assess the facts, which are, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics that volunteers tend to have higher education levels than the general public, are more often married and the largest percentage is between the ages of 35 – 44. They just know it feels good and it gets them out of their comfort zone a bit, which is healthy for entrepreneurs that are always looking to expand their network and their abilities.

A couple of cases in point of exceptional professionals who do well by doing good:

Meet Paul Tyler….

Jennifer Borsilow, immediate MDRT Past President, Past Chairman of the Top of the Table….

Leveraging Your Good Deeds

This is where it gets tricky. Even great sales people who are generous with their rare spare time, often fall short of effectively leveraging the potential power of their good deeds for professional gain. Below are some simple steps to making it happen:

1) Honestly assess whether the organization you are willing to help will bring you personal satisfaction and will position you favorably to meet the kind of people you would like to work with in your practice. Look for quality over quantity here.

2) Give yourself permission to talk about your good deeds. Do so in the context of the mission of the organization or the emotionally deposits you receive by being involved. Recruit people to the cause as their interests may dictate.

3) Leverage Linked In—Connect with the people you know from your volunteer efforts on Linked In. Be sure to complete the “Volunteer Experience & Causes” field in your Linked In profile. (Go to Profile/Add Sections/Volunteer Experiences & Causes/Add to Profile.) Also, don’t hesitate to talk up your volunteer activities positively in your personal social media networks.

4) Identify the additional skills you’ve acquired thanks to your volunteer experiences add them to your resumes/profiles/relevant discussions, etc.

5) Where appropriate, get quoted in a press release or article about your organization’s mission or activities. Exposure of your “good deed” activities in photo form doesn’t hurt either.

6) Convey your interest in working with other people with a giving philosophy as well. Ask people what they do for volunteer activities and let this lead you into greater depth about their personal and professional interests as well as deeper into their networks.

7) Use Richard Weylman’s tried and true “Transition Language:” “Now that we’ve spent time together (i.e., working for the local Soccer League), I would like the privilege of introducing myself to you professionally, as well as learning more about what you do. Let’s have breakfast or lunch next week…”

The final and most frequently used challenge preventing many of us from volunteering and then leveraging those good-will efforts more effectively is lack of time. We may think, or even say, we’re just “too busy” but busy-ness is a non-starter. It’s not about being busy, it’s about being effective. And, even if was about being busy, busy-ness is not an excuse because, 1) busy people get things done. Why? Because, 2) busy people tend to juggle priorities better than the average Jane.

Now that you have a few more ideas for leveraging your good will activities I’m not promising that every volunteer experience is going to lead to a chauffeured evening in a Rolls Royce! However, we all know that the real reward is in putting yourself out there in new ways and letting your talents shine through to a whole new group of people who will have an appreciation for what your unique talents bring to the party.

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