Strategic Volunteering: Lessons From a Mature Student

Strategic Volunteering: Lessons From a Mature Student

By: Averyl Bancroft
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Volunteering. You have always been told it is important, but perhaps never thought about why? If you were like me, volunteering your time to a cause was a sign of good character, it told future employers that you were an active participant in your community, and that you had qualities that would make you a great member of their team. Although, how has the act of volunteering changed over the years? The job market has become more competitive, and volunteering is now not only a demonstration of character, but an opportunity to develop real life skills. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your volunteer experiences.

1 - I’m going to say it, no matter how obvious it may seem. Pick an organization that means something to you. There are lots of opportunities out there, so it is easy to find volunteer positions with organizations that reflect your values. Non-profits, sporting tournaments, school organizations, and film festivals, are just a few examples. You will not only feel more fulfilled by contributing to something that holds value for you, you will also be happier doing it. You will be surprised at how quickly rookie mistakes are forgotten when you are perceived as someone who is positive and a pleasure to work with.

2 - Pick positions that demonstrate your soft skills. These are skills you can’t prove with a degree, your work experience, or sometimes even with your references. For example, I always looked for volunteer positions that offered me leadership opportunities. This put my desire and ability to be a leader onto my resume, taking it from just words to concrete evidence on a piece of paper. It showed that I was there to get as much experience as I could. Your mom might describe this as being a “go-getter,” and she would be right (as moms usually are). There are more strains on student time than ever before, so if you are going to spend your valuable time somewhere, you need to think of costs and benefits. If it’s a great volunteer program, and you are putting in as much as you can, you will reap the benefits.

3 - Don’t be shy, stand out! Find a person with an impressive title, and impress them. The most significant aspect of a volunteer experience can often be attributed to the things that no one asked you to do. Find ways to go above and beyond. This can mean different things in different roles, but you should always try to find a way to stand out. Position yourself to work closely with key individuals, so you can request personalized reference letters from them. There are two kinds of reference letters, one that tells an employer you were there, and the second tells them what they really want to hear: what your responsibilities were, what your work ethic was like, if you were easy to work with, and the cherry on top… if they would work with you again. No one owes you this kind of letter; you have to earn it, and you have to inspire that person to take the time to write it for you.  

4 - Don’t just act like you are getting paid; act like you want a promotion. Be on time. Be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there. Open the lines of communication with the people you are working with. Know about the organization. Passion about the cause comes back into play here; if you love what you are a part of, you will naturally gravitate towards playing a larger role.

Now get out there! Engage with the community around you, and develop the skills needed to move you forward in your career.


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SFU Public Square's 2014 Community Summit on Innovation runs October 19-24th. This year our Summit includes; our RISE environmental ideas competition, in partnership with the Vancouver Foundation, that has teams pitch in a 'dragon's den' style exhibition day on October 19th for a chance at $75,000 worth of prize money. Also on October 19th, in partnership with the City of Vancouver, is our Young Innovators Crawl at hubs throughout Gastown.

  • For more information on the Summit, visit our website
  • To be part of the Summit volunteer team contact:


Averyl Bancroft is the Event & Volunteer Coordinator with SFU Public Square. They can be reached at

Posted on August 21, 2014