How to Turn a Community-Based Learning Experience into a Career

By Ruby Maddox

As some of you may have noticed from my twitter stream when I’m not thinking about CBO stuff I’m thinking about opportunities for experiential learning for personal and professional growth.

Community-Based Learning (CBL) can be a great way to link academic experience with real-life applied experiences. Many students often find that they enjoy this kind of work consider ways in which they can potentially make a career out of working at a local CBO of their choice.

But where to start?

As a sector, ever in need of human resources and new leadership, there are plenty of opportunities. While participating in a CBL program there are multiple ways to pick up skills that will assist you once you’re ready to find a job.

Shadow Your ED
Most programs might suggest you set-up an informational interview with your supervisor or senior-level staff members in the organizations. With smaller organizations this can be one in the same. Your supervisor may be the only senior-level staff member, fundraiser, press manager and whatever else the organization needs.  It may be difficult for them to sit down and arrange a time to go through questions that don’t have anything to do with grant deadlines or prepping for the next board meeting. Furthermore, ED’s positions are often so complex a single interview might not capture the real essence of their work. Instead ask if you might shadow them for a day or two.  This might mean accompanying them to meetings or a fundraiser. In this way you’ll get a deeper understanding of the role of the ED and what it takes to run a CBO.

Volunteer to Help with Fundraising

With the exception of a rare few, no one likes asking for money. This is precisely why you want to get good at it. Fundraising is a constant necessity at any organization. Most CBOs are fortunate if there is one dedicated development/fundraising person, but this is usually a shared responsibility or falls under the responsibility of the ED.  Volunteering to help with fundraising shows the organization that you are willing to take on challenges and that you care enough about the organization to focus on its needs as well as your own. You gain experience in grassroots fundraising while learning how to build relationships with donors.

Recruit Other Volunteers

As I mentioned in my last post many organizations are always need of volunteers but might be under resourced when it comes to actually recruiting volunteers.  Taking on the task of recruitment (with the permission of the organization) will be a another great way to showcase your value to the organization.  While you want to make sure the organization actually needs direct volunteer support, you can always recruit volunteers to do small tasks that indirectly benefit the organization. This can be anything from asking a group of friends to organize a bake sale, to recruiting friends and family to attend the organization’s next event, to collecting non-monetary items that the organization might need.

Don’t Become a Martyr

Organizations often caution against becoming “too involved”. After all we all want to show compassion, commitment, and loyalty to our causes and the communities they support. But no one benefits from your burnout. And the enthusiasm and passion you once held, can make you feel burdened and stressed.  Learn balance early in the game. Your supervisor might appreciate your gusto in the beginning but losing sight of priorities can make you less effective as a staff member and a volunteer.


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