On International Volunteer Day Tomorrow, Do Something Selfish

Mark Horoszowski

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org.

Tomorrow, Dec 5, 2015, is International Volunteer Day and the MovingWorlds team would like to take a moment to encourage you to be a little more selfish on this historically altruistic day.

Done correctly, volunteering (especially skills-based volunteering) is proven to:

  1. Volunteering makes you happierHelp you live longer
  2. Develop your leadership skills
  3. Increase your on-the-job satisfaction
  4. Make you happier
  5. Help you get a better job
  6. Improve your overall health
  7. Make you feel like you have more time


Beyond personal benefits, corporations are also realizing the powerful benefits of skills-based volunteering programs, which can do things like improve corporate recruitment, retention, and development. In fact, international skills-based volunteering programs are growing in leading companies, and service-learning programs are expanding in top universities.

So, as you consider where you’ll give your time on International Volunteer Day (and beyond) we hope you’ll be intentional with designing an experience that not only helps an organization in need, but also benefits you in the process. Here are a few tips to help you volunteer in a way that will have the greatest impact on you, and the partner you’re supporting:

1. Engage in a project that has potential to make a real impact

The most effective volunteer engagements occur when there is a true need for your time and skills. Don’t force a volunteer role just because it’s International Volunteer Day. Instead, apply your skills to an organization where your work will accelerate its impact. At MovingWorlds, we encourage all skilled-volunteering (Experteering) engagements to plan on a success metric one year into the future. This ensures that the project will create a long-term impact, and that you as the Experteer will be able to point to a practical example of how your work created change.

2. Don’t offer to help, instead create a partnership

While “volunteering” is often confused with “helping”, they are two very different things. Helping typically implies that you’re coming from a position of privilege and that there is a one-way transfer of resources. Instead, work on creating a partnership that is beneficial to all parties. Done correctly, Experteering can accelerate progress of the organization you’re supporting, and help you develop your own skills in the process.

3.  Focus on them, not on you

“You get the best of others when you give the best of yourself” – Harvey S. Firestone

While a volunteering engagement will benefit you, the benefits are often not realized until the work is completed. To help ensure that both you and your partner are getting the most from the experience, make sure to focus on the organization you are supporting, not your personal agenda. This means you should:

  • Empower existing ideas, not plant your own
  • Work with existing tools and processes, not try and implement your own
  • Find the right balance of teaching and doing, ensuring that a project is completed, but also that your partner(s) learn the proper skills to sustain the project when you leave
  • Be respectful of your partner’s limited time and resources
  • Adopt a servant-leadership mindset

4. Set clear goals together

After deciding on an Experteering project, set clear goals in partnership with the organization you are supporting. Set “SMART” goals for the following:

  • Project Goals: List both short-term and long-term goals, like what will happen by the end of the Experteering engagement, and what is a success metric that can be measured one-year after that engagement.
  • Personal Goals: Tell your partner what you are hoping to gain from the experience so they can become your partner.
  • Learning Goals: Both you and your partner should shares your goals for learning, this way you can open the door for conversations to teach each other skills.

While counter-intuitive at first, we believe that if you take a more selfish approach to volunteering, you’ll do more if it and your partner organization will benefit even more. This video as an example…

If you need help finding a skills-based volunteering opportunities overseas, we’d love to help. If you’re looking for local opportunities review LinkedIn For Good opportunities, using a matching service like Catchafire, joining a Pro-bono program at Taproot, or simply ask your LinkedIn and Facebook network for connections in your next post.

Have a wonderful International Volunteer Day, and if you do take the plunge into skills-based volunteering, here are some resources to help you be more successful.