Your Time

Community work is a great way to meet people and improve your social skills

By Dwarka Lakhan |

Volunteering in the community in which you practice can be rewarding if you participate in worthwhile causes that interest you.

"Volunteering ultimately pays off if you are passionate about your cause," says Craig Skauge, executive vice president of Olympia Financial Group Inc. in Calgary.

Skague participates in a range of charities, including the Olympia Trust Foundation, operated by the Olympia Financial Group, and the advisory board of the Children Wish Foundation. Skauge has a deep appreciation for charitable work. As a child, he enjoyed a trip to Disneyland courtesy of "Dreams Take Flight," a charity that provides the "trip of a lifetime" to children who are ill.

"People want to work with caring individuals," Skauge says.

Here are some ways in which volunteering can pay off for you:

> Volunteering is a great way to meet people
While networking should not be your objective in volunteering, Skauge says, your fellow volunteers eventually will get to know and trust you personally. During the course of your volunteer work, you might discuss what you do professionally through casual conversation.

But, he adds, do not use your volunteer work as a sales tool: "It is an absolute turn-off to people when you promote your services while volunteering."

> Volunteering helps build your reputation
Depending on the type of volunteer work you do, you might have the opportunity to present yourself as an expert on a particular subject. For example, you might assume the role of treasurer of a local charitable organization, which might require you to do presentations on financial matters. Such activities can highlight your professional skills and enhance your reputation as an expert. 

> Volunteering gives you access to like-minded individuals
People who volunteer for a specific cause are, in at least one way, like-minded. They share a passion for that cause and might share other interests and values as well. So, volunteering can give you the opportunity to meet people with personal interests that are similar to your own, which can enable easier conversations.

For example, Skauge says, if you volunteer at a board level "you have face time with a lot of successful people." These interactions can ultimately pay off for you professionally.

> Volunteering enhances the possibility of referrals
If you have a genuine interest in volunteering, Skauge says, you can openly ask your clients about the causes that interest them. You can then choose to volunteer in those causes that match your own values and objectives. Volunteering with causes that are aligned with your clients' values can lead to deeper relationships and increase your chances of getting referrals.

> Volunteering builds your communication skills
When you spend time volunteering, you get a chance to mix with different people in various situations.

"[Meeting people through volunteering] allows you to develop your soft skills," says David Andrews, portfolio consultant with Franklin Templeton Investments Corp. in Toronto. These skills include listening, showing empathy, collaborating and asking questions. As your communication skills improve, you can then apply them more effectively when dealing with your clients.

See: Volunteering is a family affair

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