Did you ever think about what happens when you share your experiences volunteering? It was months after I started my work with Ventures that I realized how impactful my story could be for the organization.

I found Ventures soon after moving to Seattle when they were recruiting volunteers at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I already felt privileged to be working with a great team on international public health issues. However, the nature of my role doesn’t let me see my impact in the community around me. The opportunity to coach entrepreneurs in Ventures’ business courses caught my attention because it allows me to 1) utilize my broad range of business and practical problem-solving skills, 2) practice patience and active listening, and 3) see my direct impact in the community around me.

Arunan Skandarajah, PhD. Strategy Officer at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Needless to say, I had a great experience coaching in the Business Basics Course, which motivated me to stay involved in Ventures’ other business courses and workshops. I couldn’t help but talk about my experience coaching Ventures’ entrepreneurs with my coworkers and friends—it was exciting to share that clients were starting businesses that ranged from homemade Jamaican handpies to custom bicycles to video services. Over time, I found a group of like-minded people who wanted to add volunteering into their routine. I learned that they were seeking the same type of opportunity that motivated me to volunteer with Ventures: being able to apply skills in a new context, empowering others, and addressing a need they cared about. It just made sense to connect them to Ventures.

I didn’t realize until a few new volunteers had kicked off their experiences that sharing my story had as much impact as my direct service. In doing so, I (albeit accidentally) mobilized volunteers who brought diverse skills and contributed valuable time coaching Ventures’ entrepreneurs. Though I hadn’t initially thought of myself as an advocate, I realized that storytelling plays a valuable role for Ventures and our entrepreneurs.

I think this is one of the most under-utilized effects of your role as a volunteer and is an easy thing you can do to increase your impact. Your voice matters because:

  • You care. If you are willing to commit to volunteering – through bad traffic, life’s competing demands and emergencies, or the lure of a quiet night in front of Netflix – you actually care a lot. There are many people who aren’t able to dedicate time to a cause they’re passionate about, so believe me when I say this is a pretty big deal.
  • You have reach. If you have the skills to volunteer, it’s likely your friends do, too. If your experience helped you grow, wouldn’t you want to set up your peers to develop their skills and story through service, too? Your credibility and relatability will mean that your message resonates with potential volunteers in your circle.
  • You can inspire. Taking a minute to reflect why you commit to volunteering and how you’ve grown from it will let you be a passionate advocate. By telling your story, you demonstrate that high impact volunteering can fit into a busy life, which is its own type of inspiration.

So get out there and volunteer (hopefully for Ventures!). Then, figure out how you can maximize your impact by making your volunteer experience a part of your story.