Mar 1, 2013

Selfish Volunteering: A Post-New-Year Resolution

Author: Candice Goldsmith

Happy March!  How many of you made a New Year’s Resolution?  According to, here are common ones:
  • Drink Less Alcohol
  • Eat Healthy Food
  • Get a Better Education / Job
  • Get Fit / Lose Weight
  • Manage Debt / Stress
  • Quit Smoking
  • Save Money
  • Take a Trip
  • Volunteer to Help Other
Now’s the time for a self-check; and let’s be honest.  How many of you are still living up to your resolution?  It’s OK if you aren’t. Based on a quick internet search, anywhere from 50% to 88% of resolutions are abandoned by February 1.  There are lots of reasons why they don’t always work out, likely because most of these resolutions require self-sacrifice that often doesn’t outweigh the perceived benefits.

I’d like to propose a mulligan – a chance for a fresh start by feeling great while doing something for your own benefit: Selfish Volunteering.

Volunteer work party last August at Rainier Beach Urban Farm
While most people know that volunteering makes us feel good because we are using our time to helping others and building a stronger community, the lesser-discussed benefits of volunteering is that it can be a great personal and professional boost.  You may be scratching your head, so let me illustrate.  Volunteering can help you:

Network with influential people –people who volunteer are likely to be active in their communities through local businesses or other organizations, and know other influential people.

Gain experience – whether you want to forge a new career path or launch your career to the next level, volunteering is a free way to learn new skills.
Volunteers at check-in for Sustainable Seattle's
Tools for Tomorrow Hunter Lovins talk-
Including Michelle, now staff

Demonstrate your passion and commitment – volunteers differ from paid staff because they work for free and have no motivation other than they want to. This speaks for itself.
Sustainable Seattle is a great place to start if you’re looking to volunteer, as they have formed programs to integrate volunteers into their work and if you’re reading this blog, you’re already familiar with them.

Some other examples of “selfish” volunteer opportunities that fit the criteria above including volunteering with professional organizations for the type of industry you’re currently in or want to migrate into or non-profit organizations.  Volunteering efforts that include recurring events are often more transformational than single-event efforts, although both are beneficial.

A Case Study
Not one to use myself in case studies, I must deviate from protocol and make an exception in this case.  I love my job, live in a city that I love, and feel that I’m making positive impacts on the world every day- and I have two volunteering efforts to thank for making it possible.  In 2008, I was trying to make a shift in my career path into Facility Management as a graduate student. I volunteered at an event with the local Atlanta branch of IFMA (International Facility Management Association) where I learned about the opportunity for a scholarship and free trip to the national conference in Orlando.  I earned the scholarship and presented in the conference’s international research competition, through which I won a free trip to Spain to attend the international conference.  That year, I also begged and pleaded a classmate, who happened to be the facility manager with a nearby organization, for an unpaid internship. This launched into an opportunity for a paid internship at another organization that ultimately gave me the experience I needed to win the job I currently have and love – working at a green building consulting firm here in Seattle.

Helping others to enjoy your passions does no harm!

While these results aren’t guaranteed from all volunteer efforts, similar and even better results are possible.  So, let’s claim our mulligan by volunteering to help others -- and ourselves!

About the Author
Candice Goldsmith, FMP, LEED AP O+M is a sustainability consultant in the built environment, focusing primarily on existing buildings at Paladino and Company in Seattle.  With a background in facility management and existing buildings, she brings an understanding of high performance building operation from the manager/owner perspective to her clients’ projects.  Candice has LEED certified over 30 buildings, including AT&T Park in San Francisco, the first Major League Baseball stadium to achieve LEED EBOM certification.  Candice led a volunteer-based Green Team at her condo building in Atlanta, where she developed sustainability goals for the building, including a comprehensive recycling program, energy and water efficiency programs, a community resource for sharing and reusing moving supplies, and outreach and education.  Candice is also owner/founder of an eco-friendly apparel company operating 100% in Seattle: Dolomite Bags.


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