By DANA DITTMAR
CEO, SCC Chamber of Commerce
Several years ago, I found myself unemployed for several months. This was an unusual situation for me, and I wanted desperately to get back into my career. I was sending out resumes by the score, but not getting the kind of responses I was looking for. This was before the 2007 recession when the market was great. I had no idea it would take so long to find employment.
A great friend of mine asked me if I wanted to volunteer at her nonprofit one day a week until I found something. Why not? I was bored at home and frustrated with my situation. Helping out would do me good. She had a special project she felt was perfect for my skills, and she was right. I loved it.
To make a long story short, my great friend was offered a position further up the food chain, and the nonprofit offered me her position. That took my career in an entirely new and wonderful direction. As always, it’s who you know. That, and great timing.
Networking is the absolute best way to meet new people who are in a position to refer business your way. That’s why the chamber offers so many networking opportunities — coffees, lunches, business-after-hours events — all for free. But attending networking functions isn’t the only way to meet people. Another way to get your name and face out there is to volunteer.
Are you in the handyman or construction business? Habitat for Humanity would be a great place for you. Not only can you show off your prowess, but other volunteers see you as a contributing member of the community. Building a Mary Kay, or Amway business? How about Mary & Martha House, Joshua House, or A Kid’s Place? Are you in real estate or banking? Consider anything in the arts or working with scholarships.
And guess who those other volunteers are? They’re board members, philanthropists and others who give of their time. These other volunteers can introduce you to a whole new world of potential customers. Not to mention, they will already be favorable to someone who shares their same passion.
No matter where my career has taken me, I’ve always found causes to help out. It’s the absolute best way to find out who the movers and shakers are in your community. And with so many great nonprofits out there, it’s easy to find one that can best showcase your skills and touch your heart.
Think you don’t have time to take on one more thing? Then consider eliminating one event you’ve scheduled that you aren’t that gung-ho on, and swap that time for volunteering. Or pick one annual event and work towards it on your own schedule. Think Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society or the annual Alzheimer’s Walk. You can fundraise and share the big day with hundreds of other folks.
Get outside your comfort zone and give something to your community at the same time. You will be surprised by whom you might meet.