We all spend so much time on our work, it’s hard to imagine giving away some of those valuable hours for free. But there are lots of benefits to be had from donating your professional skills.

Volunteering time to give back to the professional community is something we’ve experimented with for a while at Map & Fire. It started as a way to expand our network, but the more we’ve done it the more we’ve seen the extra benefits. It helps you see your abilities in a new light and gets you thinking beyond your own immediate needs.

I don’t have a teaching background, but I have mentored teams in work environments. Those moments when I felt I made a real change in someone’s work or personal life are the ones that have always stuck with me the longest. They strike a much deeper chord than any sort of financial win.

But being a mentor or teacher goes beyond personal satisfaction, it also builds up your skill set.

I learned an interesting way to think about skill training during a podcast with authors James Altucher and Ryan Holiday. It’s a concept Ryan learned from MMA fighter Frank Shamrock called “Plus, Minus, Equal”.


The idea is that to keep improving your skills, you need three types of people around you:

  • Plus: Those that have skills and experience you don’t, who can mentor you to improve.
  • Equal: Those that have a similar level of skills and experience, who challenge you to stay sharp.
  • Minus: Those that are missing some of your skills and experience, who allow you to strengthen your abilities through teaching.

In our volunteer experiences, we’ve made relationships with all three types of people. Sometimes we get to teach, sometimes we get challenged, and sometimes we get to learn.

The common themes though are always around sharing knowledge, building skills, and providing help — not closing a deal.

Of course it’s not entirely altruistic. When you volunteer your professional time, there are still some self-serving benefits that come with it. You expand your network, raise your profile, and build relationships that could eventually lead to paying jobs.

Those are all great things!

But the core is to express your expertise without worrying about revenue. To have outlets for your skills that provide some of those more indirect benefits.


Three Ways To Grow Your Brand’s Impact By Sharing Your Skills

You don’t have to look far to find places seeking volunteers, but here are some of the ways we’ve found to donate our professional time:

  • Schools and Intensive Programs: One of my first endeavors into volunteering time was with General Assembly. They provide all sorts of courses around tech, design, and business. I also provide mentorship to entrepreneurship students at USC and have taught guest lectures at UCLA. 
  • Local Groups and Organizations: We’re also involved with an organization in Los Angeles called the Bixel Exchange. It’s a nonprofit organization run through the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. This group offers community support and resources to small businesses and startups in the LA area. They brought us in to speak to their entrepreneurs about our approach to business strategy and provide one-on-one mentorship.
  • Offering Direct Help: We’ve explored lots of different ways to offer pro bono consulting to early stage founders, including free “office hours” sessions and most recently remote Zoom sessions for businesses struggling due to COVID-19.

All of these have had a positive impact for us on a personal and professional level. In each instance we’ve connected with people we never would have met otherwise. And each time we participate, we walk away with a renewed focus and perspective for our paying work.

I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to donate your skills that aren’t touched on here. If you’ve done other things to volunteer your professional skills, leave a comment to share!

Once you try it a couple times, it’s easy to get addicted to giving back some of your time to help others.


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