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10 Reasons to Volunteer Your Time or Work for Free

By David Quilty

internshipIf someone asked whether you would like to work for free, your initial reaction might be, “No way!” or, “Why would I do that?” However, there are several reasons, depending on your situation and goals, why volunteering may actually be in your best interest.

For example, if you’re focused on how to make your paycheck last longer, think too of how to make it bigger. Working gratis can provide you with the experience to do just that.

But, given all the volunteer “opportunities” available these days, it’s important to choose wisely where to exert your non-compensated efforts. Do you want to gain experience or networking connections to further your career, or do you simply want to satisfy some personal curiosities or charitable desires? Whatever your goals, there are numerous reasons to work for your own benefit without drawing a paycheck.

10 Reasons You Should Work for Free

1. Gain Valuable Job Experience
Recent evidence reveals that companies are recruiting more of their own interns to be full-time employees than ever before. So why not get in on some of that hiring action? By interning at a company you wish to work for, you increase your chances of getting hired permanently than if you apply for a job through the normal channels. Internship opportunities can work for new graduates and experienced professionals alike.

2. Build a Portfolio
If you are a freelance web designer or consultant, the more happy clients you have, the better you will look to prospective ones. By occasionally working for free on a successful new company logo or a sought-after business plan, you can grow your portfolio while attracting the attention of new prospects.

3. Stay Sharp While Unemployed
Job loss can deal a heavy blow to your ego and self-esteem. In this employment market, it can take months (if not years) to find a new job, so what better way to use some of that downtime than to do something to boost morale? Volunteer with companies in your field to keep yourself working and simultaneously increase the odds of landing a full-time job.

4. Learn New Skills
You may have graduated from college just 10 short years ago, but that doesn’t mean your skills are up to snuff. For most jobs, ability requirements change almost overnight, and you need to stay on top of your game to remain attractive to employers. Do a little work for free in your chosen field to acquire or hone the job skills that employers look for; additionally, this will put you in front of hiring managers and potential employers.

5. Gain Exposure for Your Work
Are you an artist or photographer? By taking on free gigs with corporations, you can showcase your work in bigger and better markets than were previously available to you.

Let’s say a major soda company has a competition for a new seasonal logo, and the prize doesn’t involve any money. Rather, the winning logo will be on soda cans for a full month, along with your signature and website. It would be foolish to turn down that kind of exposure just because it lacks an up-front financial reward.

6. Gain Enriching Experiences
Even if you have a full-time job, it doesn’t mean what you do there is personally rewarding. If this is you, consider volunteering on projects of personal interest during non-working hours. It could be reading to kids at the local library or serving Meals on Wheels down at the retirement center. If your day job isn’t rewarding, make sure the rest of your life is!

volunteer work

7. Use Your Skills to Barter or Trade
No one person is good at everything. But by bartering your expertise for someone else’s, both parties can benefit without any money trading hands.

For example, if you are a tax preparer and need a small construction project done, you could potentially trade your professional services with a contractor who needs his taxes done. In fact, bartering used to be the only way people exchanged goods and services – who says you can’t bring it back?

8. Build Your Resume
Chances are, if you are just starting out after high school or college, you will lack the experience needed to land the job of your dreams. If this is the case, why not offer the skills you do have for free in order to get your foot in the door?

I once accepted a video editing assignment a few days after I graduated from film school that didn’t pay anything. Money wasn’t the driving factor, but I did get some desperately needed experience to improve my resume!

9. Start a Business
If you were to build the next Facebook or Twitter, you would probably have to work long hours for little or no pay – along with no guarantee of ever making a dime. Don’t be fooled; working for yourself is often the same as working for free, especially when you are just starting out. But if starting your own company is on your mind and is what you want to eventually achieve, isn’t working for free to get it off the ground worth the effort?

10. Work for a Cause
Non-profits are always looking for volunteer workers to help out their cause. Why not use your skill set to move something forward that you truly believe in? Whether it’s an environmental group, a religious organization, or a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, your assistance could be just what they need, especially in rough economic times.

Final Word

At first glance, the phrase “working for free” doesn’t sound like an optimal long-term employment plan. However, by automatically turning down unpaid opportunities, you could miss out on a valuable chance to future-proof your career. Volunteer your efforts to gain needed experience, learn a new skill set, and make networking contacts.

Whatever your motivation, know what you want to gain on a professional or personal level. By carefully considering your opportunities, working for free could turn out to be the best investment for your future.

For more information, watch the address marketer Charlie Hoehn recently gave at TEDx called “The New Way to Work.” In it, he discusses how the typical means of seeking employment may not be as effective as first working gratis for a potential employer.

How do you feel about working for free? Have you gained valuable experience or skills from a volunteer or unpaid position?

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David Quilty
David Quilty is a freelance writer living outside Santa Fe, NM. After burning out working in the entertainment field in Los Angeles for many years, David decided to strike out on his own and follow his passions for writing, web design, politics, and green living on a dirt road in rural New Mexico.

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