Volunteering is a vital part of most non-profit organizations, and many would not be able to function without volunteers. Despite its importance to the community, volunteerism has been on the decline nationally since 2005. If you've thought about volunteering but haven't taken action, consider the many benefits that go beyond helping a cause that you believe in.
Volunteers Help the Community
Many people complain about problems in their communities, whether it's homelessness, poverty, hunger or literacy. A volunteer gets to put their feelings into action and do something about the problems they care about. Volunteers are the embodiment of the famous quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
Volunteers Keep Non-Profit Doors Open
Many nonprofits rely heavily on volunteers and would not be able to provide much needed programs and services to communities in need. In fact, there are many non-profits that are 100% volunteer run with no paid staff. Volunteers are estimated to provide over eight billion hours to non-profits nationally at an estimated value of $193 billion. If you care about your community, volunteering plays a vital role in ensuring a safety net for underserved individuals and families, as well as the animals, the environment and many other causes.
Volunteers Have Better Physical and Mental Health
If you've volunteered and walked away feeling better both mentally and physically, you're not imagining things. Research has found that people who volunteer live longer, suffer from fewer debilitating ailments and have less incidence of depression. Depending on the type of volunteering, it can also increase your regular physical exercise, such as walking dogs at a shelter or doing maintenance work on local parks and hiking trails.
Volunteers Are Connected to People
Particularly for singles and older adults, volunteering can reduce feelings of social isolation by giving one a purpose and a social outlet with like-minded people. It's reported that one in three adults 45 and up suffer from loneliness. Seniors, particularly widows and widowers, suffer from higher rates of loneliness which can negatively impact physical problems. One research study of older adults who lost a spouse found that volunteering just two hours a week can make a big difference in their mental and physical health. It also can help improve their sense of self-esteem, which is true for volunteers of any age.
Volunteers Can Be Anyone
Another wonderful aspect of volunteering is that anyone can do it. This means that people who may have a harder time participating in sections of society may find a welcoming home at their volunteer location. For example, many people with disabilities may not feel as engaged with their communities on their own because of a lack of mobility, but there are many volunteer positions that can be done from home. Other non-profits will make a concerted effort to include people with disabilities and other backgrounds, and these opportunities can make a big difference in these population's self-esteem and sense of purpose.
Volunteers Learn New Skills
Volunteering can be a great way to learn skills that can help you to go further in life. This can include "hard" skills like learning how to use technology or construction skills. It also includes many "soft skills" like time management, communicating effectively with people, and learning responsibility. This makes volunteering a wonderful pursuit for younger adults looking to get a leg up in the job market, as well as older adults looking to broaden their horizons.
Volunteers Teach Civic Responsibility to Children
Parents that volunteer provide a compelling example to their children about the importance of caring for one's community. Many parents even bring their children along to volunteer outings that are kid-friendly. This is a fantastic way to teach children about caring for others in need and supporting one's community. It also helps teach children responsibility and interacting well with others.
Volunteers Have Fun
No doubt, volunteering with some "weighty" issues like homelessness and poverty can be difficult emotionally. But despite the concerns that volunteers deal with supporting their communities, they do also get a chance to have fun. Many organizations encourage volunteers to have social outings together and hold events to honor their achievements. You can also choose to volunteer to do activities that are enjoyable, such as teaching children arts and crafts, mentoring a Boy or Girl Scouts troop, or putting on a community play for a non-profit theatre.
Volunteers Increase Their Families
Sometimes volunteers can make their families bigger because of their volunteer assignment. For example, volunteering with a children's organization can sometimes lead to a volunteer making the decision to become a foster parent or to adopt. On the non-human side, volunteers with animal shelters will joke about how hard it is to not bring home every pet in their shelter, so they're likely to bring home at least one new dog, cat, bird or other homeless animal. All of these scenarios lead to less loneliness, stronger social bonds as well as finding homes for those in need.
Volunteers Become Leaders
Even the shyest, most introverted person can find a volunteer position that speaks to them. These opportunities can help build leadership and social skills. They can also help bolster one's self-confidence and improve one's sense of self. When you see the impact of your actions on the lives of others, it's hard not to feel better about oneself and believe in the possibility of true personal growth.
Volunteers Develop Business Connections
Volunteers who serve on nonprofit boards are known to develop networking connections with others in the business community. However, even volunteers who work lower-level positions at a non-profit can interact with business members of the community. Finding others that you may work with whom share a passion and a commitment to helping others can lead to clients for your business or a potential new job for yourself. You never know who you might meet volunteering that can help your business or career in the future.
Don't Hesitate to Start Volunteering
There are many compelling reasons to volunteer. Some reasons are benefits to your own life such as improvements in health and wellness and career prospects. Others relate to your passion for helping your community and putting your words and beliefs into action. If you've been thinking about volunteering but feel hesitant or nervous, it's time to find a place to show your passion and give back to others!