We all want to be valued members of our families, friends in our social groups, esteemed colleagues at our workplaces, and active members in our communities. A great way to find and feel that value is to volunteer locally and/or online.
Volunteering might not seem like it’s the best answer to fulfill this longing, because you are giving good things away instead of receiving them. However, I submit to you, that volunteering can indeed satisfy that longing you have to feel valued. In order to fairly assess whether volunteering is best for you, however, we need to analyze the pros and cons of volunteering.
The “Pros” of Volunteering
Volunteering comes with many perks, including physical, social, and spiritual benefits.
The Physical Benefits of Volunteering
Let’s turn our attention to HelpGuide.org, a nonprofit organization that is a, “trusted guide to mental and emotional health.” Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., CEO and Executive Director of HelpGuide.org, and Lawrence Robinson, Senior Writer and Editor of HelpGuide.org, share statistics from, “‘Simple Changes, Big Rewards: A Practical, Easy Guide for Healthy, Happy Living,’ a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications.”
“When researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were, according to a study in Social Science and Medicine. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being ‘very happy’ rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks.
Here’s the kicker–they go on to say:
“Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000, say the researchers.” (emphasis mine).
This type of impact on one’s mental health is paramount to a long and happy life. Segal and Robinson share even more health benefits of volunteering:
“Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not. Older volunteers tend to walk more, find it easier to cope with everyday tasks, are less likely to develop high blood pressure, and have better thinking skills. Volunteering can also lessen symptoms of chronic pain and reduce the risk of heart disease.”
If these physical benefits don’t shock you enough into wanting to volunteer, there’s even more.
The Social Benefits of Volunteering
This section could be an article in and of itself. There are endless social benefits to those who volunteer.
- Community Investment/Exposure: If you show the community that you care about them, they will have the opportunity to care for you in return.
- Networking: You will meet people who are movers and shakers, the type of people who can help you develop and advance your career and role in the community. You could even find your next career move in this process!
- Friendship: Tired of going to the bar to meet people? Do you want to meet genuinely good people instead of constant partiers? Volunteering exposes you to meaningful, deep-rooted, and purpose-filled friendships.
- Board Membership: Joining the board of a nonprofit organization is super important on a resume when you are trying to land an upper-level job. If you and another applicant have the same skills and experience, you will likely get the offer over the other applicant if you are a board member at a nonprofit.
- Leadership Opportunities: Do you have a lower-level job and feel stuck, as you try to attain a higher-level position? Becoming a leader at a nonprofit organization shows your potential employer that you have the managerial skills necessary to take your job position to the next level.
- Issue Awareness: You will be able to speak authoritatively on a wide spectrum of issues your community faces, showing others (1) you are a valuable asset to the community, and (2) you could attract more business to their company by hiring you.
- Admittance to Graduate Student Programs: Graduate programs value community service so much that it could be the make-or-break difference between you being accepted and you being declined admittance. An even greater plus is that if you volunteer in the community in which your desired graduate program physically resides, you could use local community members as character references to those programs. You would want these people’s recommendations in particular, because these people might have inside connections to your desired program.
The Spiritual Benefits of Volunteering
- Doing Good Deeds: If you have any type of spirituality, volunteering is definitely something to consider. In most spiritual or religious beliefs, it is highly esteemed to give of yourself to others for nothing in return. Whether you are simply going out of one’s way to give some food to a homeless person or volunteering one’s time as an active member of a nonprofit board of directors, volunteering is extremely valued. As all spiritual and religious paths have different values and goals, take some time to consider for yourself which type of volunteer activities would best suit your needs.
The “Cons” of Volunteering
Volunteering has mainly positive effects on people’s overall wellbeing. However, as like with any path in life, there are always things that may negatively affect us.
The Physical Detriments of Volunteering
- Physical Harm: If you are volunteering in a physically demanding environment, such as on a construction site, you might end up hurting yourself in an accident if you are not careful. There is not much one can do to stay safe while volunteering except to follow all rules and regulations set forth at the site.
- Burn Out: Let’s turn our focus to Steve Corbett, “the Community Development Specialist for the Chalmers Center for Economic Development and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College.” One of the things he explains in his book, “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself,” is how volunteering or giving of yourself too much can harm you. However, he explains how to give of yourself in such a way that is life-giving to both you and those you help without giving more than you can offer or spreading yourself too thin.
- Boredom: Sometimes volunteer opportunities can be dissatisfying to volunteers, should they find out they don’t like the volunteer opportunity they signed up for. If volunteers end up not being needed or are not interacting directly with those they are helping, volunteers can feel like their work was not needed and a waste of time. A way to make sure this does not happen to you is to contact your volunteer coordinator in advance to discuss the various aspects of the volunteer opportunity in consideration. Ask him/her what you can do to make your experience more meaningful and people-centered. Who knows, there might be a more fulfilling and higher-level volunteer opportunity in store for you if you reach out for something like this!
The Social Detriments of Volunteering
- Unbalanced Time Management: If you are giving away too much of your free time outside of work to volunteering, you may end up not having much time to give to your already well-established friends, family, and loved ones. The way around this is to make sure you don’t give past your breaking point. Schedule time with those you care about to make sure you are equally balancing between volunteering and building upon your well-established relationships.
- Prideful Perception: Another potential detriment to volunteering is if you make your personal gain more important than the people you are serving while volunteering. Oftentimes, if a person volunteers extensively and makes every opportunity to talk about his/her business whenever he/she volunteers, it can be highly frowned upon and viewed as manipulative and prideful. In order to address this type of behavior, I suggest taking the time to sit down and discuss your temptation to use your volunteer platform as a means to satisfying your own financial gain. Consider if volunteering is truly something you want to do even if you never got to share about your business during your volunteer hours. If you would be okay with never talking about your business while volunteering, which obviously is not a harmful thing in and of itself, then your motives are in the clear.
The Spiritual Detriment of Volunteering
- Unbalanced Time Management: The primary spiritual detriment you may encounter is that you may accidentally spend too much time volunteering and not enough time practicing your spiritual rituals. Even though volunteering is a valued part of many religious philosophies, make sure your schedule allows for enough time to focus on your own spiritual needs.
So, Is Volunteering Worth It?
At the end of the day, I will absolutely, hands down, say that volunteering is worth someone’s time, should he/she have the capacity to do so. Even if you are bedridden and have little energy, there are online volunteering opportunities for you to take part in so that you barely have to move.
The benefits of volunteering far exceed the detriments of volunteering, especially because the detriments can so easily be controlled by being intentional with your time.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that not all people are ready or able to volunteer. So, I would recommend against volunteering if your life circumstances prevent you from doing so in a healthy, balanced, and fulfilling manner. For most people, however, I highly recommend that you volunteer. Think about it; what do you really have to lose? You have everything to gain and very little lose.
Okay, You’ve Convinced Me To Volunteer; But, Where Do I Even Begin To Look For Opportunities?
The Lancaster Young Professionals is proud to present a multitude of opportunities for you to volunteer in 2018. For more information on these events, as well as other volunteer opportunities in the area, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blog Author: Mary Barba
Board at Large, Lancaster Young Professionals
Principal, Barba Digital Solutions LLC
Mary Barba is the Principal at her firm Barba Digital Solutions LLC, which offers B2B digital marketing services. Mary earned her Bachelor of Science from Drexel University in Philadelphia in 2015. Now, as the newest member of the Master of Science online program in Digital Marketing at the Digital Marketing Institute located in Ireland, Mary strives to offer her clients and the Lancaster Young Professionals more powerful digital marketing strategies to meet their business objectives. As a Board Member at the Lancaster Young Professionals, Mary actively volunteers her time on the Marketing Committee (January 2018-Present) and Community Service Committee (March 2017-Present).