Career Service Support and Skills-Based Volunteerism

By Cami Boettcher

Less than 30% of Americans volunteer annually and the rate of volunteerism has steadily declined over the last few decades (Poon, 2019). Analyzing the statistics on volunteer activity, we find the majority of efforts are targeted toward food collection/distribution, general labor, transportation, and fundraising (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016), leaving an extremely limited portion of the volunteer labor force engaged in skills-based services. What exactly is skills-based volunteerism? According to AmeriCorps (n.d.), “Skills-based volunteering means leveraging the specialized skills and talents of individuals to strengthen the infrastructure of nonprofits, helping them build and sustain their capacity to successfully achieve their missions.” As a trained career service professional, you have a powerful opportunity to provide specialized services to the vulnerable members in your community—skills that are desperately needed.

Bridging the Gap

The need for career support is exhaustive and rampant. The pervasive income gap in the United States has continued to widen (Horowitz et al., 2020), and poverty rates—though on a downward trend—are still in the double-digits (Semega et al., 2020). Individuals hoping to improve their situation are met with substantial barriers to advancement perpetuated by the rising cost of higher education (Amour, 2020), as well as food, housing, and employment hardships caused by a global pandemic (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2021). As a career professional, you have the skills to provide direct and targeted support to the general population, however, these services can often be physically and/or financially inaccessible to many individuals who need them most. This is where skills-based volunteerism can have a profound impact. To help bridge the gap, begin by asking yourself, “Who are the individuals in my community who have high needs, but low access to services?” Some populations in your community that may fall into this category could include:

When considering outreach opportunities, begin with a cause you are particularly passionate about and search for nonprofits in your area that you may be interested in partnering with.

Leveraging Career Service Skills in Volunteerism

After identifying the vulnerable populations in your community, the next step is to determine what type of support is needed and brainstorm ideas for engagement. Try asking yourself, “What specific and targeted action can I take to satisfy an identified career support need?” As a career service professional, you likely have a myriad of tools, resources, training, advocacy, and outreach at your disposal to assist with:

  • Resume, Interview, and Job Search
  • Connecting/Networking
  • Career Workshops
  • Digital Resources
  • Assessments

How can these skills be leveraged to scaffold the support needs of your vulnerable community members? You might consider partnering with a youth center to deliver an interview workshop. Or you could provide resume building support to individuals at a women and children’s shelter. Perhaps you have a large professional network and would be able to connect a non-profit organization with a company who could supply necessary resources. Or maybe you could offer professional interpretation of career assessment results to veterans. This is truly at the heart of the work we do as career professionals and I encourage you to be as creative as possible when brainstorming opportunities to provide support. If you are having a tough time getting started in volunteerism, you can always begin by looking for opportunities where you can share existing material with those in need.

Letting go of the Time Barrier Excuse

Arguably, the greatest barrier to volunteering is the perceived lack of time; however, it’s important to remember that volunteer outreach may be:

  • Remote/virtual or in-person
  • Synchronous or asynchronous
  • As an individual, part of a group, or through an organization
  • Performed during work hours or personal time
  • A single event or an ongoing project (including short, medium, or long-term)
  • Proactive or responsive

When considering a new volunteer venture, it’s important to ask yourself: “How much time can I contribute and what modality is best?” Be honest about the time you can commit and look for opportunities that fit your availability and required delivery method. Don’t be afraid to keep looking until you find a position that is mutually beneficial. Remember, you do not have to shoulder the entire burden of support needs to be a valuable volunteer. Even a single workshop could have a profound impact on someone’s life.

Photo By Nathan Lemon On Unsplash

A Call to Action

As a trained career service professional, you have an opportunity to utilize your unique skills to support the vulnerable members in your community through skills-based volunteerism. I encourage anyone reading this article to begin by asking these three questions:

  1. Who are the individuals in my community who have high needs, but low access to services?
  2. What specific and targeted actions can I take to satisfy an identified career support need?
  3. How much time can I contribute and what modality is best?

Then, reach out and volunteer! Remember the old saying, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” So, what will you do?



AmeriCorps. (n.d.). Skills-based volunteering. https://www.nationalservice.gov/resources/member-and-volunteer-development/sbv

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016, February 25). Volunteering in the United States. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/volun.pdf

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2021, April 8). Tracking the covid-19 recession’s effect on food, housing, and employment hardships. https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/tracking-the-covid-19-recessions-effects-on-food-housing-and

Horowitz, J. M., Igielnik, R., & Kochhar, R. (2020, January 9). Most Americans say there is too much economic inequality in the U.S., but fewer than half call it a top priority. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/01/09/most-americans-say-there-is-too-much-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s-but-fewer-than-half-call-it-a-top-priority/

Poon, L. (2019, September 11). Why Americans stopped volunteering. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-12/america-has-a-post-9-11-volunteerism-slump

Semega, J., Kollar, M., Shrider, E. A., & Creamer, J. (2020, September 15). Income and poverty in the United States: 2019. United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2020/demo/p60-270.html

St. Amour, M. (2020, May 20). Report: Inequities, barriers remain for degree attainment. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2020/05/20/report-inequities-barriers-remain-degree-attainment


Cami BoettcherCami Boettcher is a College & Career Counselor and National Certified Counselor with background education and experience in business administration. Cami is passionate about integrating volunteerism into her work and is always looking for opportunities to grow, develop, and engage. Please feel free to reach out and share your ideas with Cami at boettchercami@gmail.com or www.linkedin.com/in/camiboettcher

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Larry Robbin   on Sunday 05/02/2021 at 09:43 PM

I support the concept of volunteering to help vulnerable populations. I have worked with those populations and the organizations that serve them for over 45 years. One thing I would add that it is very important that people who want to volunteer first become the students of those populations and take a deep dive into learning not only about their collective history and challenges, but also about their strengths. I have seen many volunteers with backgrounds that don't match the people they want to help inadvertently say or do things that are class, cultural or otherwise irrelevant or offensive to the people they want to help.

Jim Peacock   on Wednesday 05/19/2021 at 04:19 PM

Great job and bringing up an important point about reaching vulnerable populations.
I offer reduced or free services each year just to make sure I can reach some of these folks.

Janet Wall   on Tuesday 05/25/2021 at 02:07 PM

Some months ago, I wrote this piece on the benefits of volunteering and its relation to career development. https://careerdevelopmentmusings.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/career-development-benefits-to-volunteering/

Cami Boettcher   on Wednesday 05/26/2021 at 12:00 PM

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your feedback, experiences, and ideas!! Volunteerism is an important part of my life, so I am immensely grateful to learn from the unique insight each of you has contributed to the conversation!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.