One of the challenges of serving as an Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) is the salary. My decision to take on a low-paying job is one that leaves many of my friends and family wondering if I have all my wits about me. Notwithstanding the guffaws about my decision, in my experience as a VISTA (now in my second assignment), there are certain things that money (or in this case a padded salary) can’t buy.
Don’t get me wrong: many of my fellow millennials are refusing to choose between money and passion by engaging in social entrepreneurship. However, the various service oriented fellowship and internship opportunities out there, like VISTA, provide valuable opportunities for millennials to be leaders. Here’s how to make the most of the experience:
- Learn & Experiment. Many low-paying positions give you room to experiment, learn, and grow on the company’s dime because they are deferring to you for certain tasks and projects. In my first VISTA assignment, with the help of a friend we redesigned the entire organization’s website with no experience, learned about project management, and picked up some very valuable web skills in the process. I did have an idea of the areas I wanted to grow in which allowed me to take the leap and learn on that organization’s dime. Whatever your rational is, Rosetta Thurman offers 15 Powerful Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Nonprofit Career to help you figure out your next skill-seeking job/volunteer assignment.
- Get Involved in Key Conversations & Decisions. In the corporate sector most decisions are made in the boardroom, behind closed doors, and out of earshot of any pre-determined “underling.” Compared with the decision-making, authority, and sheer involvement with decisions I’ve been able to be a part of as a volunteer – my corporate salary pales in comparison to the summation of witnessing and participating firsthand in the decision-making process and understanding the rationale behind executive decision-making.
- Networking. Low pay can translate into a higher salaried position if you build a solid professional network. VISTA allows me to interact with like-minded individuals who have a diversity of experience both inside and outside of their VISTA assignments through special events and happy hours. From my experience, talking to your supervisor about your goals outside of your current position helps extend the reach of your network through them with very little effort too. With the widespread use of social networking at many nonprofit organizations, this is a surefire way to learn about the industry, different career opportunities, and expand your network.
- Maximizing a Nonprofit Salary. It isn’t always about financial compensation and I’ve found that many of us working in the nonprofit sector get extra paid time off, longer vacation periods and sometimes more relaxed dressing environments. As a nonprofit volunteer we also get discounted theater tickets through the Theater Development Fund and other “Do-gooder” perks. In case you need more advice on stretching that dime check out Maximizing a Non-profit Salary
- Do good, feel good. While money may make the world go round, it certainly doesn’t do much to motivate us those mornings when we would rather be in bed. The knowledge that what I do is making a difference always makes me feel okay with not bankrolling 6-figures every month or two. With the economy still rebounding, volunteering has quickly become equally as valuable as work experience.
Anne is currently serving a year in Americorps’ Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) program as a Communications/Development Associate at Urban Dove. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of her own youth development nonprofit – The World is Your Oyster launching this fall. Read all of Anne’s post on YNPN-NYC.