Why You Should Volunteer

Too often we get caught up in our own lives. We mean to volunteer and “be a good person”—whatever that means—but we just don’t get around to it. For some days, being busy is a good enough excuse. But what you’re missing out on is far more valuable than a little lost leisure time.

Personal satisfaction

You probably remember that feeling you got after participating in your company’s canned food drive last year. But do you remember how quickly it went away? The point to volunteering is to do it regularly enough that you’re getting the full benefit of it along with the nonprofit you’re working with.

Volunteering

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Of course, if you’re doing something you hate, quite frankly, you’re never going to feel good about it. The trick is to find something that may not be 100 percent fun, but it is something you can do with a smile on your face.

Gardeners can look for opportunities in the spring to help landscape nonprofits, and those who love children can work at a Boys and Girls Club. If you know a specific craft or skill, contact your local library and see if you can offer a class on it through them. People who enjoy a little alone time can work at historical societies and comb through data and records or even walk cemeteries to record burial sites.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure that it’s something you don’t mind eating away at your free time or you likely won’t stick with it.

The personal side of networking

If you’re looking for a way to meet people, either as friends or business contacts, look no further than your local food pantry. Volunteering releases all sorts of endorphins that will make you a happier, friendlier person that’s just ripe for hiring or befriending.

Looking for friends? Chances are good you’ll find someone with your same interests if you find a specialized volunteer position. Chances aren’t that great that they’ll be in the same age group (depending on the position), so be open to mentoring a college student or helping a senior.

Better than exercise?

Okay, no, it’s not better for your body than exercising. It will, however, give you some of the same benefits. The Corporation for National and Community Service created a report from 30 studies that showed significant health benefits for those who volunteered 100 hours or more a year.

Heart attack patients were less likely to battle depression after their hospitalization if they were volunteers or if they began to. In one study, those 65 and older lived longer if they volunteered. Another study showed older generations had less of a decline in health. Yet another study showed that those with significant health problems progressed better than science can account for.

In addition to all of that, volunteering gets you off the couch. Whether you’re walking around, playing with children or gardening, you’re going to be moving around. Even volunteering at a food pantry can require anything from lifting and carrying heavy boxes to filling grocery sacks. However, if you have problems with mobility or lifting, don’t hesitate to contact an organization. More than likely, they’ll need someone to work the receptionist’s desk or be a greeter.

Learn new skills

Sure, you could take classes to learn new skills. But they’re not going to be as hands-on as learning in the moment. Many nonprofits use online training to teach their recruits, but others will sit down with you and explain things.
You can learn grant-writing (a semi-lucrative writing career), just by volunteering at an animal shelter. Often, the directors will teach you enough for you to do it and guide you through the first one. Their investment in you pays off as you continue to work with them.

At many organizations, you can learn new computer programs. The volunteers are all busy people, but they’re also patient, and they’ll recognize that it’s important for you to know everything that’s going on in the system. Respect their time and pay attention, and they’ll be as helpful as you need them to be. You can also learn soft skills, like working with children or training animals.

So what are you waiting for?

If you’re looking for a great place to volunteer, check your local United Way. They’re a collection of non-profits, and you’ll be able to talk to someone in person about your skills and where you’d best fit. You can also get information on which non-profits have an upbeat atmosphere instead of a frazzled one. If they’re frazzled because they’re understaffed, go ahead and try them. If they’re frazzled because of poor management, though, they’ll only add stress to your life.

For those who want to type in some keywords and get results, check out Volunteer Match, which lets users type in a keyword and their location to find some options they would be interested in. Go through a search portal like Volunteer Match instead of just Googling a term, though, because many non-profits don’t have websites.

Now get out there and start helping others and yourself!

Jesse Langley lives near Chicago. He divides his time among work, writing, and family life. He has a keen interest in blogging and social media and is an advocate for online training.

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