It’s commonly understood that volunteering helps charitable organizations and the communities or people who benefit from those services or programs. There is also a growing body of research showing the personal benefits to volunteers themselves, including increased happiness, reduced stress and improved physical health. Beyond these great reasons to volunteer for a cause you care about, volunteering can also help your career. Check out the top five ways you can gain professional benefits from your volunteer commitments:

#5: Volunteering can help you gain experience in your field.
If you’re beginning your career, your volunteer experience makes you a more appealing hire, especially if your skills-based volunteer position relates to the job you’re seeking. And the fact that you made time to volunteer tells a recruiter or hiring manager that you’re hard working and motivated. Mid-career professionals looking for a change can used skills-based volunteering to demonstrate that their skills are transferable.

#4: Volunteering can be a resume gap-filler.
If you’ve been unemployed for some time, you probably don’t want to hear that you should be working for free. However, the adage that it’s easier to find a job when you have a job is true, and your volunteer experience can fill up an otherwise blank period of time on your resume.

#3: Volunteering can help you develop new skills.
Whether you’re looking to improve upon technical skills you use in your day-to-day work or develop skills to prepare for the next stage of your career, skills-based volunteering can help you achieve your goals. The right volunteer opportunity can help you demonstrate readiness for a leadership position, improve your communications skills, or learn new skills related to your current or future job.

#2: Volunteering can help you build credibility in your industry.
One step toward establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry is expanding your sphere of influence. Your personal and professional contacts – and your influence – will increase exponentially when you share your pro bono expertise with organizations outside of your employer.

#1: Volunteering can grow your network.
Your volunteerism might include holding a leadership position on an organization’s board, serving in a skills-based volunteer role related to your career goals, participating in your local government or civic organization, or any other way in which you devote time in support of a cause you care about. Regardless of the role, you’ll probably find opportunities to connect with others who share the same passion, including other volunteers, staff and people in your community. Take advantage of this opportunity to invite new connections to your network, because a broad and diverse personal and professional network is a valuable asset for your ongoing professional development.

By Katie DeBeer