How volunteering can help your career development

Written by
Louise Cooper

14 Sep 2017

14 Sep 2017 • by Louise Cooper

Getting involved in school governing can not only help your own career but also give you the opportunity to influence the future talent agenda, argues Louise Cooper of SGOSS.

When was the last time you volunteered to do something meaningful which would support your career development and possibly even make you happier? As Jonathan Haidt writes in his book The Happiness Hypothesis, the voluntary activities you undertake make a significant and sustained difference to the level of your happiness. 

Joining a school governing body as a volunteer governor or an academy board as a trustee is a fantastic way to develop yourself, learn new skills, broaden your experience, and improve educational outcomes in your community. 

What does a school governor actually do?

School governors have three main roles:

  1. Setting the strategy and ethos of the school
  2. Holding the head teacher to account for educational outcomes of children
  3. Ensuring financial accountability.

    Given this context, schools benefit hugely from the experience that business people bring to the governing body, whether your skills lie in HR, finance or premises management. 

As well as bringing expertise, volunteers also gain skills. Being on a board, appointing the head teacher, approving budgets, and scrutinising performance data for a whole organisation is invaluable experience for your learning now, as well as laying the foundations for non-executive director roles later in your career. 

Building skills - and socially responsible business

Emma Ayton, MCIPD, is group talent manager for SAGE plc and is a governor at Stamfordham First School in Northumberland. “For my part the role is very rewarding and I am learning a lot.  I love working with our head teacher who is awesome and inspirational.  I have learned a lot from her in terms of leadership and communications – there are lots of transferable skills there.”

Will Durham, area manager at SGOSS – Governors for Schools says: “Being a school governor has had a positive impact on my professional capability. It has honed my ability to grasp data and new information quickly, and assess potential actions through the lens of ‘what is in the school’s best interests?’ Organising and working with my fellow governors towards the solution of particular issues has developed my ability to think concisely and get to the crux of issues rapidly. Application of this to my day job has helped me to think laterally and to look further ahead than I did previously.”

The promotion and support of skills-based volunteering is becoming a bigger part of what companies do to make a difference in local communities. This aligns with the movement for companies to be more socially responsible.

“Millennial” employees often consider the moral purpose and social responsibility of their employer to be as important as their products and services. There are clear business benefits to supporting volunteering as well as the benefits for employees described above. David Rowsell, head of education and employability programme at Lloyds Banking Group, says: "Supporting effective school governance is key to Lloyds Banking Group’s StandingOut programme, and wider education and employability strategy.”

Supporting staff who wish to volunteer

There are simple practical things you can do to support employees volunteering as a governor. Firstly, give staff the flexibility to attend meetings when they need to. Secondly, promote opportunities through internal communications and facilitate presentations. Many companies do these already. 

How about recognising the skills that your staff have acquired through voluntary activities in your organisation’s performance review? For example, if you could see feedback on the negotiation and board skills development of a colleague over three years, shouldn’t that contribute to their appraisal and be considered to increase potential? 

Career development through volunteering can also reap rewards in ways you can’t possibly predict. In 2004 I was heading off on holiday when by chance I saw an advert in The Guardian to become a trustee of UnLtd, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs. I interviewed and became a trustee. Seven years later when we moved to South Africa for my husband’s work, my connection with UnLtd helped me secure a voluntary role which gave me a taste of what it takes to lead an organisation. Two years later I was back in the UK and my voluntary experiences were pivotal in securing a role with an education social enterprise, because it showed evidence that I was committed to a social purpose, despite my largely corporate background. 

In summary, know your passions, be open to volunteering opportunities, and you too can be making a difference in local communities while developing skills for life.