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.
Four Ways To Give Away 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: Our first endeavor into volunteering time was with General Assembly. They provide all sorts of courses around tech, design, and business. We helped out by doing portfolio reviews for their UX students as they got ready to enter the job market. My business partner, John Sexton, has also done a couple guest lectures at GA on Branding.
- Local Groups and Organizations: We recently got involved with an organization 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: Our office space is at a WeWork in downtown Los Angeles. Last fall we started offering free office hours sessions to the companies in the community. We use the sessions to teach our own materials and provide a place where companies can share ideas and insights with one another. (If you’re in the LA area, check it out!)
- Personal Projects: Another recent project I started was focused on environmental activism. It’s a concept called #PlantTheWall. I wanted to use my experience in tech, marketing, and strategy to try and affect positive change. I created the site to encourage people to support the environment starting right in their own backyard. You can read more about the story behind it on the website: http://letsplantthewall.com
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 away your time for free.
A Couple Freebies to Use Right Now
In the spirit of giving things away, we have a couple free worksheets on our website that you can have right now. There’s a Purpose worksheet for defining your company’s core purpose, vision, values, and goals. As well as a Content Strategy worksheet with best practice tips on writing, design, SEO, and more.