There’s a type of work you can do to feel better, live longer, and make a difference in the world. It involves neither lifting weights nor devoting years to studying, but rather taps into an inherent need human beings have: the need for connection. You’ve guessed it: we’re talking about volunteering.
Indeed, multiple studies in the United States and beyond have shown a link between volunteering and better health. That’s how important meaningful social interactions are to our wellbeing!
In this article, we’ll be looking more closely at what volunteering entails, what its benefits are, and how to find opportunities that suit your interests.
What is volunteering?
Volunteering is the act of offering your time and effort to a cause with no financial gain. People of all ages, from kids to older adults, pursue volunteering programs, with the majority of causes focusing on uplifting disadvantaged communities and protecting animals and nature. To achieve this, volunteer activities often include fundraising, collecting goods and supplies, teaching, and raising awareness around specific topics.
Though traditionally done in person, volunteer work can now be done virtually, too. This means that your physical location is no longer a barrier for those who want to be involved in something meaningful.
The benefits of volunteering
As we mentioned, volunteering not only benefits the people receiving the aid but also the ones doing the selfless work. Below, we’ll look at the benefits of volunteering and discuss how they can impact a person’s life, both professionally and on a personal level.
1. You learn new skills
Volunteer work is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and learn new things. If you’re a student especially, you’ll get to develop some sought-after soft skills.
2. You strengthen existing skills
One of the benefits of volunteering is that it can benefit anyone, regardless of age. If you’re employed, you can hone the skills you gained through your previous work experience.
3. It gives you a sense of purpose
Many people think their jobs are meaningless. If you seem to lack inspiration and satisfaction in your day-to-day lives, volunteer opportunities can provide them to you.
4. You become more confident
Helping others in need can make you feel great about yourself! Combine that with the well-rounded skillset it helps you develop and you’ve got a real boost to your self-esteem.
5. You gain perspective
Community service is a great way to find out more about yourself and the people around you. With clarity comes gratitude, appreciation and focus in terms of your future goals.
6. It boosts your mental health
Volunteer experience has been shown to release dopamine in the brain. This reduces stress and anxiety, improving overall mood.
7. You build strong friendships
Your local volunteers center will attract people with similar values as you, which is an excellent way to make new friends. Volunteering with old friends can also strengthen existing bonds!
8. It’s good for your heart
Since volunteering reduces stress, it’s been linked with better cardiovascular and general health. That’s why older adults who volunteer are thought to live longer as a result.
9. It makes you happier
Selfless acts are inherently rewarding: they can improve mental and physical health and provide a sense of accomplishment. All of these are elements of happiness!
10. You make a difference
Doing work that matters is priceless. After all, as the saying that goes, “people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
The skills you gain from volunteering
Besides the incredible health benefits that selfless work offers, it also provides you with the opportunity to build precious skills. As a lot of these are people skills, they’ll benefit you in any professional setting.
Working as part of a team requires excellent communication skills. This includes active listening and non-verbal communication, like body language.
2. Time management
As a volunteer, you’ll learn to manage your time better, both during volunteer activities and outside of them — especially when you’re studying or working at the same time!
Volunteering is an excellent way to improve your collaboration skills. You learn to exchange ideas, depend on others, and show up for them in return.
Through volunteering, you get to interact with disadvantaged groups in your local community. This can be a real eye-opener, teaching you patience and kindness, and giving you perspective.
When you volunteer, you know that a great cause is relying on your contributions. Showing up on time is and doing your own part is, therefore, essential.
6. Conflict resolution
Since people volunteer to help their community, they can’t afford to waste precious time arguing. Diffusing arguments and communicating respectfully is one of those social skills volunteering helps you develop.
7. Social awareness
Volunteering can introduce you to people from various backgrounds. In time, you’ll develop the ability to see reality through their perspective, despite their point of view differing from yours.
Whether it’s keeping track of fundraising progress or preparing material for teaching an English class, volunteering will help you practice your organizational skills.
9. Problem solving
Things don’t always go as planned; that’s just a fact of life! Paid or not, work can teach you to stay calm and come up with solutions faster.
Volunteering will give you plenty of opportunities to think on your feet and take initiative. By teaching you to think critically and prioritize, it will also enhance your delegation ability.
How to find volunteer experience
Finding volunteer work opportunities that resonate with you shouldn’t be too difficult. There are always going to be people around you who are passionate about making a difference. In order to join them, you must do a little bit of research and prepare your application material. Let’s break the process down into easy-to-follow steps:
Step 1: Consider what causes interest you
To find an opportunity that suits you, you must first do some self-reflection. Start by asking yourself some questions, like what type of work you see yourself doing and what changes you’d like to help bring about in your community.
Step 2: Be realistic about time restrictions
The second step in finding the right volunteer opportunity for you is to consider what level of commitment you’re able to provide. What is your current schedule like? What other commitments do you have besides working or studying? Take these things into consideration to avoid overbooking yourself.
Step 3: Reflect on your current skillset
This one’s important. Before deciding on a volunteer project, consider what causes your knowledge or skillset could prove beneficial in. At the same time, think about what the project itself could offer you in return — what skills or knowledge could you gain that might be useful in the long term?
Step 4: Look for volunteer opportunities
The most straightforward way to look for any job opportunity is via the internet. Many volunteer organizations have websites that can help you get started, such as Peace Corps and VolunteerMatch. Just make sure that the program you find online is credible, as scams are rampant!
Step 5: Tailor your résumé to the role
If you’re a recent graduate, you may not be familiar with the whole job application process. What you should remember when applying for a volunteer position, though, is that your résumé must be readable, concise, and tailored to the job description. Remember to list your most relevant qualifications and skills!
Step 6: Write a cover letter
Much like your résumé, your cover letter should be relevant to the role you’re applying for. This is your chance to express your passion and admiration for the work the organization does, explain why it’s dear to you, and state how you can help.
Step 7: Submit your application
When you’ve picked the right role, prepared your application materials, and proofread them, it’ll be time to send in your application. Make sure you keep an eye out for any application deadlines; though some organizations look for volunteers on an ongoing basis, others may accept applications for a limited time.
Step 8: Complete any necessary training
Depending on the role you’ve applied for, some prior training may be required. Though usually you’ll receive on-the-job training, in some instances, like when volunteering as a first aider, you may need to earn a certificate beforehand.
Once you’ve done this, you can start working as a volunteer!
How to add volunteer work to your résumé
Volunteer work can enhance your résumé regardless of how far along you are in your career. However, recent graduates and people who have been out of work for some time can benefit all the more from it.
When outlining your volunteer experience in your résumé, remember to:
- Create a dedicated “volunteer experience” section
- Focus more on what you achieved as a volunteer rather than what responsibilities you had
- Keep the information relevant to the requirements of the job you’re currently applying for
Remember: If the volunteer work you’ve done is extremely relevant to the job you’re applying for today, you may want to list it under your main “work experience” section rather than a separate section.
Volunteering is an excellent way to make lifelong friends, gain new skills, and make a difference in the world. Though most of us are living busy lives, making time for selfless acts is important, as it benefits everyone involved.
- Volunteering can lower stress levels, boost overall mood, and protect heart health
- Selfless work is a great way to strengthen existing skills and acquire new ones
- Whether you’re a recent graduate or an experienced professional, volunteer work looks great on your résumé
- “Volunteer abroad” scams are on the rise — do your research to verify which organizations are credible before applying
Are there any charities, NGOs, or non-profits whose efforts you’re particularly interested in assisting? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
Originally published December 27, 2016.