Volunteering as career strategy

It’s the thing that pros are never supposed to consider, yet sometimes they do — for their own good reasons. Why would you volunteer your time and energy, and what could you get out of it? If you choose carefully how you fill the gaps in your calendar, you’ll find opportunities for growth you may not have thought of otherwise.

We often post calls for volunteers on our publicly-accessible Open Calls board*, and occasionally post a volunteer position that catches the key. While Lauri’s List is primarily focused on classical vocal pros, we also serve a much broader community, including many who hope to “go pro” as soon as possible.

This is where you come in

If you’re looking for experience that will make you more marketable, don’t forget about organizations like Volunteer Match and Idealist.org, as well as other nonprofit “matchmakers” who can help you connect with legitimate nonprofits and other organizations, to gain experience in a variety of roles. This is optional, of course, and whether or not you choose to work for free, at any time in your career, is up to you. But once in awhile, it might be worth it, and could bring you closer to eligibility for a professional-level job, as well as bring you valuable contacts that will expand your network and help you figure out what you’re really wanting to do. The key is to

  • Keep your ear to the ground,
  • Take every opportunity seriously, and to
  • Go after the projects that would be truly beneficial to your long-term goals.

Working in a hands-on or in-person situation, for instance, could be the very best way to learn essential skills ranging from teaching to event management to marketing to arts administration, as well as sightreading, acting, costumes, makeup and other performance-related skills, if you choose select projects where you’ll perform for free. School is great, and getting paid is better. But if you’re not yet busy enough or seeking specific skills, just showing up could be the very best thing you could do to pay those dues and earn real-life experience that is worth its weight in gold.

For example…

Here are links to just a few things that popped up on LinkedIn this week, for instance:

Choir needs a piano accompanist

Share your Musical Talent with our Hospice Patients

Or this unusual “ask” from Santa Fe Opera, tweeted just today:

This is also a way for retired or scaling-back pros to expand horizons and put their hard-earned expertise to work. It could open up other arts-related interests, e.g. this listing for a dance organization:

Are You a Fan of the Arts and Have Marketing Experience?

Choosing well

The trick is to identify what you want to do, and what skills you’ll need.  Where could you use some help?  Do you want to run your own music school someday?  Do you want to start your own choir or opera company?  Are you a composer wondering how to promote your work?  Do you need to understand how a nonprofit board works?  Find out which organizations you’d like to learn from, and figure out who needs some help.  In many cases, you can limit your time or the duration of your help, to make it manageable and mutually beneficial.  Just make sure your commitment is strong, and sufficient for doing a really great job.

A regular review of sites like these can also serve as inspiration, or reminders of organizations you’d really like to work with, or should contact on your own. Make sure you’re on local mailing lists, on the lists for those organizations, and keeping an eye on any arts coverage in local news and on your favorite blogs (like this one!)

A “big picture” thing

Why else might you want to do this?  Because arts organizations need all the help they can get, and artists need the orgs that provide us with jobs, opportunities, promotion and support.  If you want those orgs to be there for you in the future, try to help them any way you can, when you can, and encourage others to do the same.

So, if your calendar is showing some gaps, fill those periods with activities that will serve your goals in the end, and can also help the arts community – for now, and for the future.

* A little help (on both sides):

Set up an Associate Membership today for just $24/yr, and get weekly updates of listings on the Open Calls board and other activity on our sites!

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