Life

The benefits of volunteering

By Raven Nyman

(DigitalVision/Getty Images)

(DigitalVision/Getty Images)

There are many reasons for volunteering, but too often the benefits of volunteer work are overlooked, especially by those who consider the work pointless or time-consuming. In reality, there are countless ways to volunteer your services and time, and many of those ways don’t actually involve an obscene amount of effort or commitment. With that said, your level of involvement in unpaid or volunteer work depends on your own schedule, goals, and abilities, which gives you the freedom to choose what sort of projects and responsibilities you can take on. If you’ve ever considered volunteering your time, then you may be interested to know what makes volunteer work really worth it.

The benefits of volunteering are countless and invaluable. More often than not, you will come away from your volunteer experience feeling as though you’ve learned and gained a lot. Research shows that working to help others in a volunteer position will lead you to experience an increase in your overall happiness and sense of purpose. Helping to make others happy will do a lot for your own sense of well-being, and you may be surprised at the valuable friendships and relationships you can forge during the experience. Whether you’re serving food for the homeless or coaching a young soccer team, you can be sure that your presence is both valued and appreciated, and that alone can provide a much-needed morale boost.

Making a difference by helping others and giving back to your community is a wonderful—and valid— reason to volunteer your time. As we’ve already established, offering a helping hand doesn’t just benefit others, but it also contributes positively to your own mental and physical health. Volunteering can counteract stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of anger simply through the tried and true use of human connection. Nothing relieves stress more effectively than developing and maintaining meaningful relationships with your fellow humans. But if seeking personal growth and looking after your wellbeing isn’t enough to entice you to volunteer your time, then perhaps boosting your resume or advancing your career might provide the motivation needed.

Career experience and skill-development are perhaps the most common reasons that people tend to give for volunteering their services. By taking an unpaid internship or volunteer position, you are granted the freedom to experience a new job or develop a new set of skills without signing up for lifelong commitment. If you’re interested in becoming a veterinarian, volunteering at a local pet rescue may provide the perfect balance of work-experience and personal fulfillment for you. Similarly, if your career goals involve medical or law school, consider signing up to volunteer during election season, at your local law office, or at the hospital. Just because you don’t see a sign that reads “volunteers wanted” doesn’t mean your services aren’t needed and welcomed. Often, dropping off a resume and expressing your interest is enough to get your foot in the door.

You might not be making any immediate financial gains through volunteering, but in the long run you are likely to see significant personal and financial gains through the skills you picked up in your volunteer position. Beyond the potential for career advancement through the curation of additional skill sets, there is also a great opportunity for you to expand your social network while working in a volunteer position. And no, I don’t mean Facebook. Your social network refers to the multitude of friends, business associates, and acquaintances you may have built connections with through your various experiences in education and employment. If you’re fresh out of high school, or even university, this social network may be rather small. That’s okay! Volunteering is a great way to meet new people who you can establish real connections with, and these connections can provide valuable opportunities as well as career openings and advancements down the line, so don’t be afraid to make friends in the process.

If you’re stuck on ideas about where to volunteer or what services you may have to offer, don’t fret. It’s highly likely that any organization you approach will be happy to receive you as a volunteer in some way, shape, or form—so just ask! Whether it’s the local Lions Club, an animal shelter, a sports team, a national park, or your community council, there are many volunteer opportunities out there waiting for you. When signing up for a position, be sure to ask all the questions on your mind and confirm that you understand what is expected of you. Don’t forget to establish the time commitment early on so that you’re agreeing on an arrangement that suits your schedule and doesn’t create unnecessary stress for your own daily responsibilities. And if the position doesn’t fit, there are always other options available. As a volunteer, you’re free to explore all of those options, choosing how and where you spend your time, so be sure to choose wisely. Good luck and enjoy the experience!