I learned much of what I know by volunteering. I originally started volunteering because I believed in a cause, but I quickly discovered that investing in other organizations accelerated my professional growth — win-win!
In a setting where people need volunteers, you can be involved in high-profile roles very quickly. And this means you learn things that a regular career will never teach you (or at least not when you’re young). No one at a regular corporation will invite you to discuss the company’s financial situation, unless you’re an executive or in finance, but on a Board of Directors for a non-profit, this is a regular activity. And this is just one of dozens of examples that volunteer non-profit work will teach you.
When we started the non-profit Jesus’ Economy, I was serving in four different volunteer roles for four different organizations. I was a Community Relations Coordinator for a developing world non-profit; the Co-Chairman of a government appointed advisory board aimed at helping people with developmental disabilities; a Chapel Preacher, Treasurer, and Board Member for a gospel rescue mission for the homeless; and the President of a church plant. I eventually left all those roles to focus on Jesus’ Economy. But it was those experiences that taught me how to lead Jesus’ Economy.
Volunteering also led to promotions at my day (pay) job for Faithlife Corporation (makers of Logos Bible Software); my volunteer experience accelerated my professional growth, teaching me new skills that led to promotions and more responsibility. I learned most of what I know about finances and corporate organization from working with non-profits. And the experience of running a full organization with Jesus’ Economy allowed for me to literally experiment with any aspect of a company, which again made me a better leader at my day job. (If you know how to run a company, you can run a division!)
When my my wife Kalene and I decided to start Jesus’ Economy, we also decided to invent the best volunteer experience possible. I use the word invent because we literally reexamined the entire process, imagining what we would change about each of our volunteer experiences if we could. What was good? What was bad? What could have been better? We then took all the best things about our various volunteer positions — and some of our own ideas — and built the Jesus’ Economy volunteer program. (And since that time, we’ve improved it with the input of other leaders; a big contributor to the design has been Mike Freyberger, our volunteer CTO.)
The volunteer program we have in place involves three types of roles: internships, apprentices, and full volunteer staff positions. All three types of positions involve investing in the lives of those who volunteer with us. The leaders in our organization have real, authentic relationships with other volunteers who report to them; mentorship (and discipleship) is involved. We’re there for one another, teach one another, and pray for one another.
The three types of positions also give people room to explore their passions and experience the joys of promotion within our organization. It’s ultimately our vision to give full areas of responsibility and “ownership” to volunteers. And we’ve done so multiple times to great success. This means that people move up in our organization until they’re leaders of our movement, driving it forward with passion, zeal, and self-sacrifice.
Over the years, we’ve seen many people move up the ladder: from an intern, to an apprentice, to a full volunteer staff member. Full volunteer staff members run whole areas of the organization and it’s impressive to watch. Interns assist in those roles. Apprentices work side-by-side with full volunteer staff members, learning how to master a skill by working with a master. For our apprentice roles, the best analogy is the journeyman carpenter: “Come and do as I do; work alongside me.” And the intern positions are best understood as assistant roles; you will get to do important work, while being closely supervised and critiqued. (We don’t expect for you to be able to make a table yet, but we do expect you to learn to use a hammer well. And we plan on showing you how tables are built.)
For many people, their volunteer roles with Jesus’ Economy have led to a broader portfolio to present to employers; learning a new skill that garners more pay at their jobs; and expanding their network and overall skill set.
I had a great moment of joy last year when one of our apprentices (who was promoted out of our intern program) wrote a blog post about how much working with Jesus’ Economy has meant to her personally. (I didn’t review it before it went live and she had no coaching in what to write, outside of that we wanted her to share her story and invite other people to volunteer.) It was when I read that post that I knew that the program was truly working; for her, volunteering with Jesus’ Economy has given her new skills and been a true joy. And that’s what I’ve always wanted to hear.
Tell me about your volunteer program or volunteer experiences. I would love to hear from you. Also, if you would like to volunteer with Jesus’ Economy to expand your portfolio, skill set, and gain new experience, check out our volunteer opportunities here.