What do you gain from volunteering? While you are probably aware of the incredible value volunteering provides to society, people in need and important causes, what may be surprising is that the act of volunteering has plenty of benefits for volunteers too.
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Volunteering can lead to new social connections, new experiences, career opportunities, and even leave you feeling happier, more confident and healthier. It can also improve your physical and emotional health by reducing stress and depression through a sense of purpose and pride. And while these benefits will be felt the more you give, even smaller acts can improve your health and happiness.
Learn about the 12 surprising reasons why you should volunteer, and hopefully you’ll be inspired to get involved.
What are the benefits of volunteering?
Let’s start by taking a look at the way individuals can benefit from volunteering. These include the social benefits of volunteering, the health benefits of volunteering and the career benefits of volunteering.
1. Meet new people
As an adult, it can be hard to make new friends. Volunteering is a great way to widen your social network and connect with like-minded people, as well as avoiding social isolation. These connections may be with the people you are helping or with other volunteers. This regular social interaction is a major social benefit of volunteering, and can help improve your social skills, mental health, improve brain function and increase life expectancy. In fact, according to Track it Forward, volunteering helps connect individuals to their community, which can lower the mortality rate by 2.7%!
2. Gain a sense of purpose
“From what we get, we can make a living. What we give, however, makes a life,” said Winston Churchill.
This famous quote rings especially true for volunteering. Giving your time, energy or skills to help your community or people in need will fill you with a sense of pride, satisfaction and purpose. Knowing people rely on you and that you can have a positive impact on someone’s life is not something we get to experience every day.
As well as a sense of purpose, teamwork and achieving goals also boosts our mental health. A study conducted by the Journal of Happiness compared people who didn’t volunteer, with those who did, and found that people who have volunteered in the past year were more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better.
3. Increase employability
If you’ve ever experienced the dreaded Catch-22, where you can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job, volunteering can help. Many organisations welcome volunteers who want to gain experience in their chosen field, from counselling to event management. This will give you the vital experience you need, as well as giving you a taste of what the career entails and build your industry network. In return, the organisation benefits from your skills and expertise without breaking the budget.
One of the big career benefits of volunteering is that it will make your resume stand out to future employers. Volunteer experience shows you are open to working as a team, community-minded and committed, as well as relevant industry experience.
4. Makes you mentally and physically fitter
Volunteering tasks often involve physical activity such as walking, setting up and packing down at events or manning water stations at sporting events. So it makes sense that these types of physical activities make you physically fitter and improve your physical health. But perhaps one of the more surprising benefits of volunteering is the impact it can have on your mental health.
A recent study from NCVO found that 77% of volunteers say their mental health improved, with just over half (53%) saying it had also improved their physical health.
Another study from Syracuse University found that those who give either money or time were 42 percent more likely than non-givers to say they were “very happy”. “Volunteering keeps you in a positive mood and can help lift you out of a negative mood.” explained Dr. Rebecca Pinkus, Lecturer in Psychological Statistics at Sydney University. The regular interaction with people, setting and achieving goals and learning new skills all help boost life satisfaction and happiness.
5. Teaches you empathy
You can think of volunteering as empathy in action. When you volunteer, you demonstrate that everyday kindness, helping others and contributing to your community is an important part of life. Building connections with people from different walks of life is a great way to build empathy, understanding and expand your worldview. By working with others, in a positive, connected environment, we learn additional values of patience, kindness and communication.
6. Gives you backstage access
Yep, that’s right. One of the surprising benefits of volunteering is that you may get backstage access to large scale sporting events, concerts, festivals and mass participation events while you’re on shift.
Common volunteer roles at events include working at the entry gates, food and beverage stands, information stands, bag drop, wayfinding, water stations, merchandise or accreditation.
If you want to pursue a career in events management, this behind the scenes access is priceless. You can see how an event is run, who is in charge of what and the many moving parts involved. You may even get to watch the race or concert from up close, or rub shoulders with professional athletes. Just make sure you always stick to the task at hand and stay professional. That means no selfies!
7. It’s fun!
The importance of volunteerism in a thriving society is indisputable. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun! Whether you’re handing out water at the London Marathon, painting kids faces at a holiday camp or walking dogs at a shelter, do it with a smile.
Volunteering allows you to break up your routine, explore your interests and learn more about the world. Finding a volunteer role that makes you feel fulfilled and happy can be a great way to relax and switch off from the day-to-day pressures of work, school, or family commitments.
You may even find that it leads you to discover a new passion, hobby, creative skill or social network.
Benefits of volunteering to the organisation
Many charities and non profits rely on the generosity of volunteers as often they’re running on very tight budgets, and cannot afford large teams of paid staff. In fact, many companies simply wouldn’t be able to do what they do with teams of volunteers to help.
But as well as the economic benefits, volunteers also provide other benefits to organisations.
8. Lessen the workload
With charities and non profits struggling to do more with ever tighter budgets, bringing volunteers on board to help out in certain areas is a great way to lessen the workload.
Before recruiting volunteers, it’s essential to have a solid volunteer management system in place to ensure everyone reaps the benefits. The Starlight Children's Foundation was able to increase the number of events they hold and volunteer team by around 150%, and reduce the headcount of paid staff 3 to just 1.5 full-time equivalent by investing in Rosterfy’s volunteer management software.
What is a volunteer management program? We’ve got all the answers here.
9. Have a bigger impact
Many hands make light work. So with an army of volunteers supporting your cause or event, you will be able to reach more people, raise more funds, engage more volunteers and have a bigger impact. Volunteers are also likely to spread your message with their networks, and encourage friends and family members to get involved as volunteers or donors.
Did you know? 85% of volunteers donate to the non profits that they volunteer for, according to the Global Trends in Giving Report.
And of course, let’s not forget the volunteering impact extends to volunteers themselves, who gain skills, health benefits, friends, social inclusion and career opportunities.
10. Find your next employees
Volunteers are a great talent pool when it comes time to recruit paid staff members. They are already aware of what you do, have completed training, they are passionate, willing to give their time for free, and hopefully have proven themselves to be reliable and helpful.
This can save your organisation hours of time otherwise spent recruiting, interviewing and onboarding.
11. Expand your network
Volunteers often have relationships of their own with the community or various organisations. These connections can help your organisation reach more people and build relationships with various community groups or businesses who may be able to support your organisation through sponsorships or donations.
Volunteers themselves can also help influence and inform the development and delivery of projects or services by bringing in fresh opinions, skills or technology you might not have been aware of. This can help organisations stay relevant, modern and up to date with what the community needs as well as continually improve.
12. Positive company culture
Giving employees time off to understand the importance of volunteerism is a great way to create a positive company culture.
You may want to dedicate one day as a company-wide charity day and encourage everyone to step away from their desks and volunteer together as a form of team building. Alternatively, giving staff a set amount of hours each year they can use to volunteer for a cause of their choice can really create a strong company culture.
Although unlikely to be the original intention, allowing employees to volunteer on company time can deliver additional benefits such as:
- Refreshed and recharged staff
- Improved loyalty
- Better teamwork
- Cross-departmental collaboration
- Enhanced skills
- A renewed sense of purpose and motivation
- New business opportunities
Finding the Right Volunteer Opportunities
So, how do you find the right volunteer opportunities for you?
These sites are a great place to start:
- Volunteer Match: This site is mainly used by non profits to list their volunteer opportunities. Volunteers can search by location or roles.
- Idealist.org: Volunteers can search based on location, availability and/or skills, connecting them to the best volunteer opportunities available.
- Jobs boards like SEEK and Indeed have a separate section for volunteer opportunities where you can search based on location, role and/or skills.
- Go Volunteer: Search for opportunities based on category, time, level of commitment, location and type of work.
What are three reasons to consider volunteering?
To sum up, the three main reasons to consider volunteers are the enormous social, health and career benefits that you receive from volunteering.
But don’t forget, you’re choosing to donate your valuable time, so it’s important that you enjoy yourself and reap all the benefits of volunteering. To ensure you get the most of your volunteering experience, remember to:
- Ask questions before and during your experience to ensure you know what to expect
- Have a positive and open mindset
- Don’t overcommit at the start
- Speak up if you think something could be improved or if you would like to change roles
- Have fun!
And for organisations, volunteers can help non profits stay afloat and make a bigger impact. They can also bring fresh ideas, skills and networks, which can help organisations stay relevant.
It’s important to have a plan in place to create a robust volunteer management program that benefits both volunteers and your organisation.