“Volunteering just isn’t for me because (Your excuse here).” I’ve heard it so many times. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 62.6 million Americans, or about 24.9 percent of those age 16 and up, volunteered their time for a good cause in fiscal year 2015. If you weren’t among them, you should be! Why? Because volunteering is for you! In this 3-part series of posts, I’ll show you why volunteering is important and how it can enrich your life (And the lives of others). Even if you feel you don’t have the time or expertise to contribute, or if you don’t know where to start! This week, you’ll discover some of the many benefits of volunteering.
Quick recap – the need for volunteers
Last week, we talked about not-for-profit organizations, and the vital role they play in our economy. We also talked about the need for volunteers.
Not-for-profit organizations need more hard-working, responsible people who share a passion for their cause and have a desire to contribute to the organization’s goals by giving of their time and energy. That’s where great people like you come in!
Volunteering – what’s in it for you?
Our time and energy are being stretched so thin these days. So many of us already have a full plate, between work, homekeeping, caring for family, and staying in touch with friends. Therefore, it’s only natural to wonder what you will gain from volunteering.
Honestly, there are so many benefits that you, as a volunteer, will reap from your experience. This is true especially if you find the ideal volunteer opportunity for you. Personally, volunteering has changed my life, and I’m a different person today because of it.
Here are a few ways in which volunteering will enrich your life:
Volunteering allows you to help others
You’re probably thinking, “Thanks, Captain Obvious,” but it’s true. Volunteering gives you an opportunity to serve a role in your community that you might otherwise not normally have. Also, it just plain feels good to help others.
Volunteering allows you to use your unique skills to contribute to the greater good
Volunteering can be a great way to use your individual talents to contribute toward a worthy cause. Many not-for-profit organizations have a great need for specialized skills.
- A doctor?
- Physical or speech therapist?
- Handy with tools?
- A knitter?
- An accountant?
- A wiz with a sewing machine?
- Good with children or animals?
- Great at motivating people?
- Able to play an instrument?
- An ace at cleaning and organizing?
- A project management maven?
- An outstanding writer?
- Good at building websites?
- A fantastic salesperson?
You catch my drift. Whatever you are good at, there is an organization in your area that could benefit from your unique skills. All you have to do is ask!
Volunteering can be good for your health
Recent research, including this 2013 Harvard study, indicates that volunteering may be beneficial to your physical and mental health. Volunteering can help lower blood pressure, help ward off depression, reduce stress, and even increase longevity, according to the study. There is just something about giving of yourself that is good for the body, mind, and soul.
Volunteering gives you a break from the stresses of your everyday life
Something troubling you at work or at home? Volunteering can be a great way to clear your mind and focus on something else during difficult times by helping you to shift gears mentally.
Volunteering takes you out of your normal environment. In addition, it turns your attention to a worthwhile cause outside yourself. Consequently, it can give you a mental break from whatever else is going on in your life.
I often leave work feeling stressed after a long day, and head straight to my volunteering gig. By the time my volunteering shift is over, I discover that I’ve been so busy helping others that I’ve completely forgotten about whatever was making me so stressed in the first place. Plus, as mentioned above, it just feels good to help others, and that reduces stress too. I feel ready to head back to my normal life the next day with a clearer focus and much calmer perspective on whatever issues I’m facing at the moment.
Volunteering can be great exercise
Depending on the type of volunteer work you do, you may just be able to skip a few workouts! There are many volunteer opportunities that include physical activity.
I volunteer at a therapeutic horseback riding facility, where I spend my time walking or jogging next to amazing special needs riders on horseback (Okay, it’s a little more involved than that, but you get the picture). In my experience, it’s a great way to kill two birds with one stone – giving back while burning some calories.
Volunteering is a great way to make new friends who share your passions
If you find the ideal volunteer opportunity for you, chances are you will meet people who are just as passionate about the cause as you are. Volunteering brings people together for the common purpose of creating good in a specific way for the benefit of a specific segment of society. What better way to meet people who are just as bananas about knitting, dogs, mentoring, or gardening, as you are?
Volunteering is a unique way to spend time with family and teach kids a valuable lesson
Volunteering as a family is a powerful act. It unites you in ways you may not have experienced before. Your kids get to see your kindness and compassion in action outside the home, and it shows them the value in and importance of doing for others.
I was lucky enough to have two strong female role models who made service to others a part of their everyday life. My mother and grandmother both volunteered regularly in a variety of ways, so for me growing up, it was just a normal thing to do.
As a child and teen, I was included often in volunteering efforts. I can still remember accompanying my grandmother to the hospital as a small child while she ministered to the sick as a church volunteer. I watched my mom serve on boards of directors for multiple charities, in addition to all kinds of other volunteer work. Seeing their acts of compassion and service had a huge impact on me. They are a big part of why I volunteer today.
Decades ago, my grandmother established a committee at her church which provides luncheons for family and friends after every parishioner’s funeral mass. At her funeral in 2013, that same committee provided a wonderful luncheon after her mass. The kindness that she had shown to so many other grieving families over the years was shown to her, to us, when she departed this world. In that moment, giving back came full circle.
It is vital for kids to learn the importance of being a force for good in the world. We, as adults, set that example. Volunteer as a family, and your legacy of service will live on in your kids.
Volunteer as a family, and your legacy of service will live on in your kids.
Volunteering is a great way to spend time with friends
Your weekly girls’ night is coming up. What to do… go for drinks (Again)? Watch chick flicks (Again)? Sit around drinking wine at your pal’s house (Again)?
None of the above! Why not find a group volunteer opportunity instead? Here are just a few ideas:
- Cleaning and organizing at a school
- Spending an evening working at an animal shelter
- Picking up trash at a local park
- Planting flowers at a local church
- Serving a meal at a soup kitchen
- Collecting toiletries for a women’s shelter
Volunteer opportunities are a great way to stay active, contribute toward a cause, AND get your gal pal fix. You can grab a bite to eat together afterward to celebrate your good deed!
Volunteering allows you to learn from the experiences of others
Another valuable thing about volunteering is that it positions you to see the world from someone else’s point of view. As a result, you gain an understanding of the unique challenges faced by others. In addition, it enables you to spot opportunities to make life better for those around you. It also helps you appreciate the blessings in your own life a little bit more.
As I said previously, I volunteer at a therapeutic horseback riding facility for kids and adults with a wide range of special needs. Prior to volunteering, I hadn’t had much interaction with the special needs community. As embarrassing as this is to admit, I wasn’t really sure how to interact with people with special needs.
Through my volunteer experience, my knowledge about those with physical, developmental, and emotional abilities different than my own has skyrocketed. I learned most of all that they are, overall, just like the rest of us. And that’s how they want to be treated. Therefore, I now make it a point to approach those with different abilities just like I would anyone else.
Finally, the resiliency and determination in those I’ve met, who are up against obstacles way bigger than my own, is awe-inspiring. Seeing someone else thrive in face of adversity challenges me not to take my own blessings for granted. It also inspires me to meet my own obstacles face-on.
Volunteering gives you a greater understanding of your community
Ever heard the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind?” Volunteering exposes you to a facet of your community that you might not otherwise encounter. It will probably open your eyes. You’ll discover that issues like childhood hunger, domestic violence, and homeless pets are closer to home than you may think. Becoming aware of the sometimes-invisible challenges of those around you will broaden your understanding of your community. Consequently, you’ll have a clearer picture of your ideal role in making it better.
In a nutshell
While volunteering will start out as something you do to benefit others, you’ll find that it will come to benefit you as well. Volunteering can positively impact your physical, mental, social, and even spiritual well-being. Let’s review some of the advantages:
- Helping others
- Using your unique skills for good
- Can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and ease depression
- Can be great exercise
- Making new friends who share your interests and passions
- Spending time with family
- Teaching kids the importance of giving back
- Spending time with friends
- Learning from the experiences of others
- Gaining a better understanding of your community
Whew! Why would you not want to volunteer? If the first few words out of your mouth are, “I would love to, but…” then I have news for you. Virtually anyone can volunteer. Stop by next week, and I’ll show you how to make volunteering a part of your life, even if you:
- Don’t have much extra time
- Haven’t got any special skills
- Just don’t know where to start
Can you think of any other benefits of volunteering? Share them in the comments below!
Check out the other posts in this series:
You might also enjoy my post on finding your ideal volunteer opportunity!