While organizations, schools and communities reap an abundance of benefits from their volunteers, the volunteers themselves also benefit in a variety of ways. For some, the benefits are primarily a boost of self-confidence and self-esteem that comes from knowing you are helping others. Other volunteers enjoy the experience as a chance to socialize with others and to build friendships based on common interests. Depending on your age and lifestyle, you could also use volunteer work to increase your professional skills, try out a new career or simply take a break from the pressures of your current job and enjoy a different type of activity.
While parents often feel overworked and exhausted by the pressures of raising a family, volunteering in your child's school or in your community can actually relieve pressure. The World Volunteer Web says that volunteering can be a good way to connect with other people in your community and to "return to society some of the benefits that society gives you." Volunteering as a family can create long-lasting memories and shared interests between siblings and their parents.
High School Students
Some high schools require community service of their students because they recognize the value in getting teenagers to connect with their neighbors and to explore interests outside of school. TeensHealth.org says, "If you're feeling frustrated or overwhelmed by the news of a disaster, volunteering to help can be a great way to cope. If you'd like to support a cause but can't afford to donate money, you can donate your time instead."
Not only do teens benefit from the experience of volunteering, but colleges and employers are often impressed when a teenager can show their level of commitment and responsibility by volunteering.
College Students and Recent Graduates
Some college programs require students to spend time at an unpaid internship in order to gain work experience. Volunteer work for college students and recent graduates can solve the conundrum of employers who prefer to a hire someone with experience. Even if your volunteer work is outside your preferred area of employment, you can build professional skills and gain life experience by volunteering. A survey by TimeBank through Reed Executive, cited by the World Volunteer Web, showed that 73% of employers would recruit a candidate with volunteering experience over one without. At the same time, 94% of employers believe that volunteering can add to skills, and 94% of employees who volunteered to learn new skills had benefited either by getting their first job, improving their salary or being promoted.
Whether you are content in your current career, unemployed or hope to switch careers, volunteer work can be equally beneficial. The "Cornell Retirement and Well-Being Study" by researchers at Cornell University showed that volunteer work is particularly beneficial for people making the transition to retirement. According to the study, many men between the ages of 34 and 54 participate in community service to enhance their careers. While women also do community service during those years, they typically do slightly less because they spend more time raising their families.
Volunteer work can be an excellent way to build new skills, make new connections with people in different industries and to renew your energy when you are bored by your current job or are frustrated by the process of seeking work.
Making the transition to retirement can often be difficult for people who are used to the social interaction of the workplace and who seek the feeling of purpose that comes with a schedule. A study by the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, showed that "older adults who volunteer and who engage in more hours of volunteering report higher levels of well-being."
According to the study, the positive impact of volunteer work on retirees appears to occur regardless of the type of volunteer work, the "perceived benefit to others," or the race or gender of the volunteer.
The Bottom Line
"Community commitments, especially formal participation, help enhance our sense of identity, promote on-going networks of social relationships and foster expectations of what to do when we wake up in the morning, much like paid work," said Phyllis Moen, the director of the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center at Cornell University told participants at a forum. "Except volunteering has one huge advantage over paid work: you can quit if you don't like it," she said.