Strategic Volunteering: A Powerful Professional Development Strategy 

By Rosette Obedoza, Global Employment Advisor (GEA) – EAP South

Moving overseas or returning stateside adds its own share of challenges to the already frustrating and often confusing situation for accompanying partners who wish to advance their careers. While waiting for an ideal job at your new post or as you prepare to re-enter the workforce after a hiatus, consider taking stock of your personal traits, interests, and skills and then choose volunteer work wisely. Through strategic volunteering, you can serve the community, gain valuable experience, and establish credible professional references in order to improve your career outlook.

It’s been said a thousand times — the best way to fill gaps on your resumé is to volunteer. At the same time, we’ve read stories of organizations taking advantage of volunteers’ generosity or of highly trained professionals spending hours performing tedious administrative tasks, which is enough to deter many from seeking out volunteer work. Regardless, the idea of volunteering to gain work experience remains a best practice in finding meaningful employment.

Finding volunteer opportunities that suit your personal and professional needs can result in valuable hands-on training that may eventually lead to a paid position. Additionally, you will further develop technical skills and could build a network of professional contacts. 

Done well, strategic volunteering can be a powerful tool for career enhancement if you identify specific goals beforehand. Think about volunteer opportunities as part of your employment plan. By identifying your goals and creating a list of criteria, you can carefully select volunteer positions and organizations that are a good match.

Here are seven questions to help you plan a strategy:

  1. Do you want volunteering to be an extension of a previous paid position or a departure from it? 
  2. Which skills do you want to use? Does this position use these skills?
  3. What skills do you want to learn? Will this position allow you to develop these skills?
  4. Does your level of time commitment match the organization’s needs?
  5. If you are volunteering for a non-profit, do you embrace the organization’s mission? 
  6. If you want to meet key contacts in this industry, will this position help you do this?
  7. When you visit the organization, do you like the culture? Do the volunteers and paid workers seem content? 

For volunteering in DC or internationally, take a look at the following organizations:

DC Volunteer Resources International Volunteer Resources


Volunteering Overseas

The J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust provides grants for community service projects where Americans and locally engaged employees and family members are volunteering overseas. The grants support projects that are conducted in cooperation with local charitable or educational organizations. Visit for information and complete submission guidelines. 

Volunteering Online

If face-to-face volunteering is not possible, technology has paved the way to make it feasible. Start your research with these organizations:

Three Tips When Considering Online Volunteer Work 

  • Get as much information as you can about the scope of work, deadlines, time commitment, training access and availability, who you will serve as your volunteer supervisor or main contact, and length of projects.
  • Report to your volunteer supervisor/main contact regularly. Develop a relationship rather than simply submitting a finished product. 
  • Don’t be afraid to share your ideas and take initiative in your position. 

Finally, after identifying the best-suited volunteer role, consider the advice about strategic volunteering given by Heather Rocker, a regular speaker for corporate and nonprofit groups. “Your volunteer roles and contributions are an extension of your personal brand.  A great volunteer contributor can become a sought-after resource by their fellow professionals.” A volunteer opportunity could open many doors and potentially position you as the best candidate for a job!

Rosette Obedoza is the Regional Global Employment Advisor (GEA) for posts inIndonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste. Currently based in Jakarta, Indonesia, Rosette frequently delivers in-person job search training and workshops at embassies, and virtually via webinars. She uses her 15+ years of Education and Career Coaching background, entrepreneurial endeavors, and 19 years’ experience as an EFM developing extensive and diverse portfolio to assist others in their professional development journeys.