How do you think like an entrepreneur, and why would it matter? Why does an entrepreneurial mindset help me to be productive and create value as an AmeriCorps VISTA?

When an organization has a critical need, they hire someone. Volunteers are useful, but never the critical need. So why would a volunteer that can think in an entrepreneurial mindset have a more fulfilling experience?

I function as a volunteer, and because of that, I’ve learned to value this mindset. When I explain why finding fulfilling volunteer opportunities isn’t as simple as showing up one day, I return to this principle. Having an entrepreneurial mindset helps me make a difference and get more out of my time than other volunteers. Here’s why.

While seemingly paradoxical, managing volunteers can take at least as much energy as the amount of output created! Supervising volunteers is often considered “extra” work; it is a responsibility in addition to work that the supervisor is already being paid to do. At the end of the day, a fulfilling volunteer experience will leave both volunteer and host better than they started.

An entrepreneurial mindset can be the difference!

Here are five key elements of an entrepreneurial mindset that volunteers and AmeriCorps VISTAs should focus on

1. Clearly defined goal

Know up front what you expect your project to accomplish. Two great examples for this are the final community projects required for the Rank of Eagle and the Gold Award for the Boy & Girl Scouts, respectively.

These projects involve a thorough planning process, and it is expected that the scouts develop a relationship with a community organization to complete their work. In a successful project, it’s clear that just as much time, or even more, was spent organizing the project as was put into executing the work.

For young adults volunteering, it is equally important to know what you expect to learn. Don’t give away your time as free labor, trade it to gain experience in something you want to do years down the road.

AmeriCorps VISTAs provide support for projects that last months, or years. Your goals for a project may be different than your host, or a smaller part of a larger project. Setting these goals ahead of time will make you more productive, and when you’ve finished your service it will provide a resource for telling others about the experience.

2. Live to provide value

Entrepreneurs who don’t provide value don’t survive as entrepreneurs for very long. The same goes for volunteers who have nothing to show for all their work. Provide value to your host and they will give you the support you need; provide value for yourself and you will have something to take with into your next job interview. Without this value, you have nothing to show.

It is easy to become the volunteer who shows up day after day with nothing to do, while others craft their position in a way that let them make a difference day after day. If you consistently provide value, you will never run out of work. Your time is valuable!

3. Take personal responsibility

Volunteers rely on trust, and trust is built through personal responsibility. With no paycheck to hold a volunteer accountable, a relationship with your host organization and supervisor will ease some of the bureaucratic barriers you may face. If possible, building this foundation before you start your project will open doors to much more fulfilling projects that you may not have thought possible.

The VISTA process emphasizes personal responsibility for meeting the objectives of your VISTA Assignment Description (VAD), but with a service longer than most volunteer opportunities, it is up to each VISTA to show they are taking personal responsibility every day.

This is your project. This is your time. Take the responsibility for gaining the experience you need to take the next step in your life.

4. Be adaptable

This may be the most important factor in determining the success of an entrepreneur. At a time when everything seems to be managed chaos, entrepreneurs who can adapt to changes as they happen are much more likely to land on their feet. For volunteers and VISTAs alike, your organization will be constantly shifting, and you won’t always be involved in the decisions being made. Have the flexibility to make your work meaningful no matter what happens.

VISTAs who have clearly defined goals, consistently provide value, and take personal responsibility for their work, will find this easier than those who don’t.

5. Be fearless

Finally, it’s ok to reach for the stars! Successful entrepreneurs understand that navigating risk isn’t about leaping forward with both eyes closed, nor is it about never taking risks. Instead, it is about taking the risks you know will push you forward and facing that future with courage. At the end of the day, we use our time volunteering to make an impact and to gain experience doing something we enjoy. Don’t hold yourself back!