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  • Writer's pictureLaShana Lewis

Recruiters and Hiring Managers: Take a Closer Look at Volunteer Experience




Among the people I know, I can count some Fortune 500 executives, CEOs of major corporations, and even founders of some of the most breakthrough technological advances of our time.


I'm not just saying that I read articles from them.


I've spoken to, asked questions of, and dialed their numbers.


I see them at events, give them hugs, and then continue to joke and talk about tasks that we need to get done.


However, the only problem is: we know each other through volunteer opportunities.


That's right - that area stuffed down at the bottom of resumes that precludes "Other Things of Interest."


Often, we relegate that to things like the time we stuffed envelopes for a local charity, or showed up to hand out coupons to economically disenfranchised folks. Or that time we showed up to deliver food to those in need.


All of these are worthy charitable actions that should continue -- no questions there.


But those places on that part of paper real estate share the same space as the time someone managed a budget of $10 million dollars, helped to hire an executive search firm, or even organized a march for tens of thousands of people.


By the way, yes... I did all that.


I also took on leadership positions as Chair/President, Secretary, and Treasurer for organizations and helped to guide them by creating strategic plans and recruiting colleagues who could help execute multi-year goals.


Unfortunately, that's all stuffed down in the same section as judging science fairs and sitting at informational booths.


There's not really a method to separate one-time, small low-impact volunteer opportunities from higher-level executive ones.


On LinkedIn, various individuals are starting to list their volunteer board service among the professional experience sections.


I personally think this is a great way to highlight these types of items without losing them in the sea of do-gooder ventures.


But how do we get recruiters and employers to switch their mindset toward this level of work ethic that is often explored by folks like me who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs) and don't have higher education degrees?


These high-level board positions often come with fiscal responsibility, specialized insurance (Directors & Officers), and often annual requirements to publicly list their board officers with their secretary of state office.


This puts folks in a whole different field than just showing up once-in-awhile to hand out backpacks to children in an afterschool program.


Taking a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens to hiring means broadening our definition of looking at past experience and scanning resumes. Here are three tips for HR and hiring managers to keep volunteer experience in mind:


Broaden Your Definition of Professional Experience

Professional experience doesn't have to end with paid positions, and many people find personal fulfillment in board positions, along with their networking opportunities. It's clear that board positions can sometimes give individuals' even more responsibility (fiscally and legally, as mentioned above) than their full-time positions.


As a result, when reviewing resumes, you should give as much weight to volunteer board of director positions as you do paid positions.


Look for the tasks that person was responsible for in conjunction with major accomplishments achieved by them, or, if not available, ask about those positions during the interview. Given the time commitment that many volunteer board positions require, they can likely answer your questions with just as much knowledge and enthusiasm as they would with any full-time role.


Reach Out to Board Members or Nonprofit Executives for References

Many times, with volunteer board experience, there's no manager to call or HR to verify employment.


However, boards tend to have someone who is still there and can speak to the person's work ethic. Often this is another board member who worked with them or an executive staff member who's still there and had professional interactions with the person.


And surprisingly, these folks could hail from high-level positions: for-profit CEOs, VPs of nationwide organizations, or even celebrities!


Scan (and Hire) for Skills Instead of Pedigree

It's easy to revert back to status quo designations when considering individuals for higher-wage positions. Common assumptions like the type of school one attended, the last salary range the person had, or the most recent job title of a paid position are often key markers in determining if a candidate is the best fit for a position.


This method filters out a lot of people who, like me, expanded their skills beyond what was available in a paid position, often relegating to executive-level equivalent duties while serving as a nonprofit executive board member.


Next Steps

Take a look at your hiring and recruiting methods and determine if the following questions are being considered:

  • Are you looking at resumes of individuals with robust nonprofit executive board experience?

  • Are you recruiting or approaching individuals listed on a nonprofit's board of directors page?

  • Does your automated screening system account for STARs?


From Candid, a nonprofit that provides comprehensive data and insights about the social sector:


"According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the U.S. This number includes public charities, private foundations, and other types of nonprofit organizations, including chambers of commerce, fraternal organizations and civic leagues."


With each organization having, on average, at least three executive nonprofit board members, this pool of potential candidates can reach upwards of five million individuals with fiscal, leadership, and relationship management skills and experience that money can't buy.

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