Today a Volunteer, Tomorrow a Leader

It’s so very important for women to stay in the ‘game’ as leaders. Having children, running a household, bringing in income or taking a break; we are masters of multi-tasking and rarely ever do just one thing. We also get few opportunities to lead.

Women are just 4.8% of the positions on the Fortune 500 and yet of all women in the US nearly 28% volunteer; contributing $102 billion of services to the economy (source: 2015 census). So women are no doubt champing at the bit to take the reins and lead. And volunteer and civic organizations are the right way to get these leadership engines roaring.

So how can you use volunteer opportunities to build skills, cover employment gaps and prepare for a future in leadership? Here are a few ways to look more seriously at volunteer opportunities:

Take the Opportunity Seriously

Seems like a no-brainer, but believe you me, just as many women signing up to volunteer take it as seriously as they think the world does (and that’s NOT seriously at all). And that’s a clear miss in opportunity. From honing management skills (and sometimes it takes pro-level skill to do this) to strengthening finance and marketing gaps, your role is important and without-a-doubt so is the organization that needs you. So show up, take it seriously and recognize what these type of opportunities can do for you.

Go Big or Go Home

Well, not really, every little bit helps. But the key here is to not shy away from the big get…if you think you have the chops to lead…then go for the biggest role available to you. You need to believe in yourself and if you think you have the desire, enthusiasm to run, for, say, the PTA or the local Soccer Association, do it. Don’t shy away. And there are big opportunities to be had.

The Irony of Big Money

Many volunteer organizations, particularly those related to schools often generate more revenue than many small businesses. So it’s a big deal. And one that affords you the chance to work on both finance and compliance skills. It’s a significant and rewarding responsibility if there is the opportunity to decide on an organization’s budget allocation.

Public Speaking

Do you like to speak your mind…publicly? Whether it gives you a rush or you rush for the door, consider opportunities that are scary, that put you in front of people, and ultimately help you find your voice. You might be surprised who you are and the power of your influence.

From Volunteer to Office Leader Someday

While most women are smoked out of the boardroom, there is a path within a community to a role in public life. You might be surprised to learn how many PTA presidents actually go on to hold public office.

A spate of articles in 2008 highlighted Sarah Palin’s journey from PTA to city councilwoman to mayor to governor. And she’s not the only one; the much-in-the-news Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was also PTA president before she was a senator. The non-profit civic training ground, the Junior League, also has had its fair share of notable members from Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman elected to U.S. Senate.

So no longer just the butt of jokes about soccer moms or those in the PTA, volunteer leadership roles may just be how we get the next woman to the White House. Today Kamala Harris tomorrow you.