Employee development requires an intentional strategy and the right tools. A modern, cloud-based LMS will be central to your success. However, there are times that you might need to go beyond your learning management system to deliver meaningful, timely development options to your employees. One such example is learning through volunteering.

Learning through Volunteering: Going beyond the LMS

What Is Learning through Volunteering?

While it might not be immediately familiar, learning through volunteering is something we’ve all done from time to time. An employee who takes on this role will be able to build new skills and refine their current skillset in environments that differ from their everyday experience, try new things and learn additional skills, and then bring all that back to their regular role.

However, the way in which they build those new capabilities differs from other learning methods. For one, they will be providing their existing skills and knowledge outside their comfort zone. For another, they will usually not be paid (hence the “volunteering” part of the process).

If the employee isn’t being paid, how does this sort of thing work? Simply put, your organization must create initiatives that encourage employees to volunteer their time, energy, and skills to worthwhile organizations. Often, these are in the immediate geographic area, but sometimes they can be farther-flung.

Here’s an example:

Your company values strong communication capabilities and the ability to connect with different communities. You’ve built that into your existing training and development initiatives, but there is more needed. Anna wants to learn to connect with more diverse communities, so you encourage her to work with local nonprofits that support marginalized minorities to help her grow and develop.

This is just a basic example, but it serves to highlight how volunteering can help both the employee and the employer. As a bonus, you (and the employee) can do good in the world by partnering with organizations in need. The knock-on benefit here is that doing good also helps improve your brand image and burnish your reputation.

Understanding the Volunteering Options

There are lots of volunteering options out there, but our discussion will focus on three specific scenarios – job-related volunteering, context-changing volunteering, and teaching/mentoring volunteering.

Job-Related Volunteering

In this situation, the employee would volunteer for a job that is related to their current role within your organization. For instance, someone who has experience dealing with content creation and digital marketing might find a role with similar responsibilities with a nonprofit organization. The benefits here include broadening and refining an existing skillset, enhancing knowledge in an area of existing expertise, and building greater capabilities that can be applied directly to the employee’s current role in the organization.

Context-Changing Volunteering

This type of volunteering is the polar opposite of job-related volunteering. The focus here is on helping the employee break out of the rut, learn new things, and open their eyes to new possibilities. Ideally, the organization will encourage the employee to volunteer for jobs that align with their strengths, as well as with their aspirations. Note that this can sometimes lead to employees changing positions and even entire career paths as they discover new passions and build new competencies.

In context-changing volunteering, employees will volunteer for a position that is completely outside their comfort zone. For instance, if they have experience as a social media manager, they might take a job handling accounting for a local nonprofit organization. If they are an accounting professional, they might take on the role of managing the board of directors for a local food pantry or other outreach-focused organization. The point is to experience something different and learn new skills and abilities while doing good for others.

Teaching/Mentoring Volunteering

Becoming a teacher or mentor can be personally and professionally rewarding. It can also allow the employee to provide someone just getting started in a specific field with critical advice and guidance from someone who has been through the process before. As a teacher, the employee can choose to teach almost anything, from gardening to woodworking. It does not necessarily have to do with their current role within your organization.

However, mentoring does touch on their current role, skills, and expertise. In this situation, the employee would work with others who aspire to join the ranks of a particular profession in a one-on-one manner. It doesn’t so much involve teaching them how to do anything in particular. Rather, it’s about advice, guidance, insight, and having a connection with someone who’s “been there, done that”.

Why Support Volunteering?

Some of the advantages of supporting employee volunteer initiatives are pretty clear. That’s particularly true for context-changing volunteering. After all, the new skills and experiences that employees learn can be applied directly within your organization for its betterment. What about the other two types, though? Or the fact that by supporting and encouraging volunteering, the employee will spend less time doing what you hired them to do?

Really, the benefits here far outweigh any perceived drawbacks (the truth is that there are no drawbacks, just things to get used to). Supporting and encouraging volunteering shows employees that you value learning and knowledge. It highlights the importance of personal and professional growth and helps build a more positive culture in your business. It also does good in the world, which is something that we could certainly use more of in all areas.

Those benefits are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, though. Did you know that volunteering helps develop and improve your team members? It does, and it doesn’t cost you a penny. It also increases engagement in your workforce – when employees are supported in doing good for others, it comes full circle.

Finally, by supporting volunteer opportunities, you let employees try on new roles and responsibilities. They can then bring those competencies back to your organization, where they can move up to higher positions, helping you maximize the value of human talent, streamline your hiring strategy, and achieve other critical goals.