Confessions of a Volunteer-aholic: How Making a Difference Changed my Life and my Career

By now you probably know I love to feature people on a subject when I think they can say it WAY better than I can myself. When it comes to volunteering and being involved in the Kansas City community, Rachel Sexton was the first to come to mind. Her spirit and tenacity are contagious and her care of this city is advantageous. I know as a Junior League aficionado (and member) the benefits that volunteering can have on your life and your career, but today I am going to let Rachel tell you all about it! Rachel is the COO of VPR Companies; 2015-16 President of the Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri, appointee of the Mayor's Challenge Cabinet and proud 3rd grade "Picture Lady" for Visitation school; wife to Brian King and mom to Will (9), Grayson (7) and Kitty (3).

My name is Rachel Sexton and I’m a volunteer-aholic. I confess that most of my vacation days are used on Junior League conferences…that I’ve served more home cooked meals to complete strangers than to my own family (which speaks equally to my love of St. James Place and my disdain for cooking)…and that thanks to endless donation drives, I’ll never need to invest in mothballs. Yes, between giving of my free time to build a better community, feeding the hungry and giving the shirt right off my back, I’m a completely selfless individual. And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you (of course I’ll donate part of the proceeds to charity). 

Confessions of a Volunteer-aholic: How Making a Difference Changed my Life and my Career  |  Rachel Sexton  |  Think Creative

I know that by volunteering I do make a difference, but there is no question that the greatest beneficiary of my altruism is me. We’ve all heard it before: there are myriad studies on the emotional, psychological, and even physical benefits of volunteering. But what about the ways volunteering helps us advance in the business world? I’m not just talking about increased productivity or enhanced community relations; I’m talking about unique learnings from the nonprofit sector that can be applied in the commercial world. 

Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

Have you ever wanted to try an unorthodox facilitation method, challenge a “meeting heavy” culture, or see how a team would arrive at a solution without a traditional leadership structure? They aren’t make or break changes, but they’re also not things to go out on a limb for (I mean, would you rather be known as a maverick for coming up with an innovative new marketing strategy…or for being the one who suggested “stand up” meetings?). The nonprofit boardroom is the ideal test lab for those “out there” ideas. The majority of your peers in nonprofit volunteering spend their day in a corporate environment – often, they relish a change of pace from the daily grind. Because things typically move more slowly in the not-for-profit culture, there’s also not quite as much on the line at the average volunteer meeting, which gives you a stronger safety net when you decide to make the leap.   

Learning How to Deal with Difficult

From the perpetual devil’s advocate in the next cube …to the unresponsive associate…to the teammate who gives 80%, “difficult” manifests itself in many ways. Maybe you’re in a position to report the thorn in your side to a superior… maybe the buck stops with you…or maybe, just maybe, you learn to work with this person and become a stronger leader in the process. After all, recruiting > hiring > training is an expensive and time consuming process. In the volunteer sector where it’s nearly impossible to get “fired” and you simply can’t expect everyone to give 100%, you learn that to be successful you must identify someone’s motivations for taking on their role, support and recognize their contributions and make sure the rest of the team doesn’t feel resentment. No matter how strong the team, there will always be a weakest link and learning to work through that in an atmosphere where no one’s bonus depends on it is a beautiful thing.

Cleansing Your Palate

More often than not, my dining experience comes with crayons and free refills, but I do appreciate the importance of a palate cleansing sorbet. While the closest I get to sorbet is stealing sharing one of my kids’ free scoops of ice cream, I look at volunteering as the palate cleanser of my life. In the midst of a hectic work project, having a volunteer commitment that clears my mind for a couple of hours is my personal reset button. On a more long-term scale, I think volunteering is great way for stay-at-home moms to get a break from their daily routine, innovate and continue to build a resume of accomplishments should they ever elect to go back to the professional world.

Getting something for nothing!

Who doesn’t love a good deal? Some charitable organizations invest in the training of their members – not just training you on the organization or how to fill a certain function, but educating you on issues that impact our community and offering training that can be applied in your professional life. As a volunteer of the Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri (JLKCMO), I’ve had hours of facilitation training, media coaching and experience leading a meeting. I have liberally applied these skills in my professional life and was thrilled to learn that I am in great company. At a recent meeting, the Honorable Audrey Langworthy, former Kansas Senator and JLKCMO Sustaining member, shared that her Junior League training prepared her for the Legislature.  

Certainly, if you’re going to volunteer, your main motivation should be a passion and desire to make a difference, but if you can get something more out of it than a warm fuzzy feeling, it’s a win-win. By learning about the training a non-profit cause offers its volunteers, exploring the opportunities for innovation and leadership, and interviewing others who serve the same cause, you just might find a volunteer role that puts your skills to use and gives you a few new ones.     

What volunteer organizations have you been involved with? And how have they changed your life or career?



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