Volunteering and its Surprising Benefits – Helping Yourself While Helping Others

With busy lives, it can be hard to find time to volunteer. However, the benefits of volunteering are enormous to you, your family, and the community. It can help you find friends, learn new skills, and even advance your career. Volunteering can also help protect your mental and physical health.

Benefits of volunteering #1: Volunteering connects you to others

One of the better-known benefits of volunteering is the impact on the community. Unpaid volunteers are often the glue that holds a community together. Volunteering allows you to connect to your community and make it a better place. However, volunteering is a two-way street, and it can benefit you and your family as much as the cause you choose to help. Dedicating your time as a volunteer helps you make new friends, expand your network, and boost your social skills.

Volunteering helps you make new friends and contacts

One of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to commit to a shared activity together. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, especially if you are new to an area. Volunteering also strengthens your ties to the community and broadens your support network, exposing you to people with common interests, neighborhood resources, and fun and fulfilling activities.

Volunteering increases your social and relationship skills

While some people are naturally outgoing, others are shy and have a hard time meeting new people. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, since you are meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests. Once you have momentum, it’s easier to branch out and make more friends and contacts.

Volunteering as a family

While it might be a challenge to coordinate everyone’s schedules, volunteering as a family has many worthwhile benefits. Children watch everything you do. By giving back to the community, you show them firsthand how volunteering makes a difference and how good it feels to help others and enact change. It’s also a valuable way for you to get to know organizations in the community and find resources and activities for your children and family.


Benefits of volunteering #2: Volunteering is good for your mind and body

Volunteering provides many benefits to both mental and physical health.

  • Volunteering increases self-confidence. Volunteering can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.
  • Volunteering combats depression. Reducing the risk of depression is another important benefit of volunteering. A key risk factor for depression is social isolation. Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system, which in turn protects you against stress and depression when you’re going through challenging times.
  • Volunteering helps you stay physically healthy. Volunteering is good for your health at any age, but it’s especially beneficial in older adults. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not, even when considering factors like the health of the participants. Volunteering has also been shown to lessen symptoms of chronic pain or heart disease.

I have limited mobility – can I still volunteer?

Whether due to a lack of transportation, time constraints, a disability or other reasons, many people prefer to volunteer via phone or computer. There are many projects where you can help. Writing and graphic design lends itself to working at home, and in today’s digital age many organizations might also need help with email and websites.  

If you think home-based volunteering might be right for you, contact organizations you like and ask what some of the possibilities might be. Some volunteer organizations may require you to attend an initial training or periodical meetings. You also want to make sure that you are getting enough social contact, and that the organization is available to support you should you have questions.


Benefits of volunteering #3: Volunteering can advance your career

If you’re considering a new career, volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and meet people in the field. Even if you’re not planning on changing careers, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organization. You might feel more comfortable stretching your wings at work once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first.

Volunteering can provide career experience

Volunteering offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. It is also a great way to gain experience in a new field. In some fields, you can volunteer directly at an organization that does the kind of work you’re interested in. For example, if you’re interested in nursing, you could volunteer at a hospital or a nursing home. Your volunteer work might also expose you to professional organizations or internships that could be of benefit to your career.

Volunteering can teach you valuable job skills

Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training. For example, you could become an experienced crisis counselor while volunteering for a women’s shelter or a knowledgeable art historian while donating your time as a museum docent.

Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you hold a successful sales position, you raise awareness for your favorite cause as a volunteer advocate, while further developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills.

When it comes to volunteering, passion and positivity are the only requirements

While learning new skills can be beneficial to many, it’s not a requirement for a fulfilling volunteer experience. Bear in mind that the most valuable skills you can bring to any volunteer effort are compassion, an open mind, a willingness to do whatever is needed, and a positive attitude.


Benefits of volunteering #4: Volunteering brings fun and fulfillment to your life

Volunteering is a fun and easy way to explore your interests and passions. Doing volunteer work you find meaningful and interesting can be a relaxing, energizing escape from your day-to-day routine of work, school, or family commitments. Volunteering also provides you with renewed creativity, motivation, and vision that can carry over into your personal and professional life.

Many people volunteer in order to make time for hobbies outside of work as well. For instance, if you have a desk job and long to spend time outdoors, you might consider volunteering to help plant a community garden, lead local hikes, or help at a children’s camp.

Consider your goals and interests

You will have a richer and more enjoyable volunteering experience if you first take some time to identify your goals and interests. Start by thinking about why you want to volunteer. Also think about what you would enjoy doing. Volunteer opportunities that match both your goals and your interests are most likely to be fun and fulfilling for you.


Approximately one-third of volunteers would welcome more volunteering

Volunteering Trends

  1.  Workplace Volunteer

The workplace is where the vast majority of American adults spend most of their time.  It is a place where most people learn about the opportunities for volunteering.  And it is the focus around which many formal volunteers activities will be oriented, thanks to the strong growth in employee volunteer programs.  For many, the workplace has become the primary social unit, taking the place of the old service groups and clubs for a mechanism for both companionship and community involvement.

According to a Gallop Survey, 12% of those who volunteered were recruited by someone at work, and 24% learned about their volunteer activity through their workplace or employer.

  1. Short-Term Volunteering

The days of the always-there long term volunteer has clearly begun to pass.  Today’s volunteers are interested in smaller and more manageable commitments, and also want to test an organization before they become involved in significant tasks or projects.

The Gallup Survey stated 41% of those who volunteered did so for a sporadic or one-time activity, as opposed to 39% who wanted an ongoing scheduled commitment.

  1. Youth Involvement

The youth factor, once an uninvolved segment of the volunteer community, has changed dramatically in the past decade.

According to a survey by Public Allies, 72% of young people volunteer with an organized group in their community. 

  •          6% volunteered just once
  •          39% several times a year
  •          16% once a month
  •          16% several times a month
  •          22% once a week or more
  1. Mandated Community Service

The day of compulsory volunteering has arrived with a vengeance.  What started as the alternative sentencing movement has rapidly grown and threatens to become the fastest growing producer of new volunteers.

Perhaps the greatest single element in this is the strong movement toward compulsory service as an educational requirement. According o the National School Boards Association, 71% of school board members favor the concept.

  1. Minority Involvement

Volunteer is continuing to move away from being a traditionally white, middle-class activity.

According to a Gallop Survey, 46% of Hispanics volunteered and 47% of African-Americans have volunteered over a one-year period.



Some New Volunteering Trends

1.        Computerized Volunteering

Advances in Technology will increasingly impact volunteer involvement.  This will happen in two major ways:

First, more and more people will use the Internet as their way to find volunteer opportunities.  Some of this will occur simply through visiting Web sites and examining programs and volunteer recruitment information, but more and more it will involve using the online brokers who have been set-up to fulfill the functions that Volunteer Centers have traditionally performed at the local level.  Currently, a number of organizations provide free volunteer matching via the Internet.  Second, more and more volunteering will happen online, as opposed to in person This ‘virtual volunteering’ provides a convenient answer for some problems that have plagued volunteer management for some time, i.e. heavy schedules, rural population, and home-bound individuals.

2.       Recreational Volunteering

A popular expression for volunteering is that it is “serious leisure.”  In the coming decades, we will see more people taking that definition very seriously indeed.

  • Vacation volunteering – Want to see the world or do good at the same time?  Simple – take your vacation while working for a cause.
  • Migratory volunteering – Retired or want to see the country in a leisurely fashion?  Simple – drive your RV from park to park while donating time.  While seemingly strange,, these tactics simply conform to the needs and interests of the would-be volunteers, and are a novel way of dealing with time constraints and the desire to move around.  With the impending population of healthy, active and wealthy baby-boomer retirees, both of these types of volunteering will blossom.

3.       Affinity Group Volunteering

People used to volunteer through affinity groups such as service clubs, religious congregations, and neighborhood groups.  Volunteering has always happened among those who felt themselves members of a group, but it is also increasing among those who would like to be a member of a group.

4.       Family Volunteering

At some point, nonprofit organizations decided that the right way to involve volunteers was one at a time.  No one is sure why this happened: some people are now trying to change the process.  The most natural “unit” for volunteering may be the family (Half of American adults do volunteer work with family members several times a year).   Encouraging children to volunteer with their parents is one of the surest ways to create a life-long value of volunteering.  This demonstrates how, for many, the roots of volunteering are put down early in life and how an interest in contributing as a youth is likely to be maintained in adulthood.

Besides instilling good habits into a future generation of volunteers, family volunteering also offers the surest and quickest method of changing the demographic patterns of a volunteer organization.  It could offer the best method for revitalizing organizations whose volunteer cadre is growing older.