Volunteerism offers important contributions to individuals and communities. Many worthy organizations would be unable to offer services to the community without the help of volunteers.

According to Nonprofits Source, a nonprofit marketing agency, approximately 25 percent of the U.S. population, or 63 million Americans, volunteer every year for an average of 52 hours. Each volunteer contributes an average of $24.14 per hour in value, with all volunteers contributing $193 billion of their time to communities.

What is volunteering?

Volunteering is the act of performing work without the expectation of financial compensation. It is a form of charitable giving that involves the donation of time rather than money.

Why should I volunteer?

Volunteerism provides opportunities for individuals to support causes even when they do not have the financial resources to provide monetary support. The most important reason to volunteer is to make a difference in a way that is meaningful to you.

Volunteering is not always easy or fun, so it is important to choose volunteer work that supports your goals and beliefs. The primary reward will be the knowledge that you are making a difference in a practical way. While it may not change the world, it changes someone’s world.


The Personal Benefits of Volunteering

If you volunteer solely for personal gain, you may not find the experience rewarding, and you may lose your motivation quickly. However, volunteering does provide numerous personal benefits.

Boost Your Confidence

Volunteering for worthy causes boosts your self-esteem and provides a sense of purpose and identity. It gives you an opportunity to see that the world is slightly better because you are part of it.

Become a Happier Person

Volunteering decreases social isolation and combats depression. It has been proven to decrease symptoms of heart disease and chronic pain. People who regularly volunteer live longer, happier lives.

One study found a direct correlation between the frequency of volunteering and happiness. Those who volunteer monthly are seven percent more likely to be “very happy” compared with those who never volunteer. This number increased to 16 percent in those who volunteer weekly.

Expand Your Network

Volunteering promotes meaningful connections, both socially and professionally. It is especially beneficial when you have moved to a new city to start a job. As an esteemed volunteer, you can establish yourself as an important member of your community, build a social life outside of your job and create new professional connections.

Gain Experience

Volunteering is such a valuable experience that many high schools require it for graduation, and some colleges require it for admission. Volunteer opportunities can help you determine whether you are a good fit for a particular career path, help you experience the world from varying points of view and help you develop important job skills.

Improve Your Resume

Job candidates with volunteer experience have a 27 percent better chance of finding employment than those without volunteer experience. Volunteer work improves your resume by preventing gaps in your work history, demonstrating your skills and showcasing your passion and work ethic. It shows your employer that you have leadership skills, initiative and connections.

Make a Difference

No matter how rewarding your career may be, it most likely will not afford you opportunities to make a difference in all the causes you are passionate about. You may also feel expendable or underappreciated in your career at times. Volunteers have the opportunity to see their value regularly, both in the eyes of the organization and the individuals who are helped.

The Community Benefits of Volunteerism

Volunteerism supports individuals as well as the local, national and global community as a whole. When each person in the community strives to make a difference, the result is a safer and stronger community.

Promotes Equality

Volunteers within the same organization can be young, old, college-educated, high school students, graduates, professionals, blue-collar workers, male, female, members of the LGBTQ community and individuals from a variety of ethnic, political and religious backgrounds.

Working together as a diverse group for a common cause humanizes each person and diminishes conscious and unconscious biases. Volunteers see each other as fellow human beings rather than categories of people.

Overall, volunteers tend to be more civic-minded and inclusive. Groups that volunteer together build a collective voice to create communities that are hospitable to all.

Unifies the Community

Widespread volunteerism within the community increases social connectedness between people of varying backgrounds. It improves the quality and availability of community services. It raises awareness of the needs of members of the community and allows diverse groups of people representing all sectors of society to work together for solutions.

Creates a More Compassionate Society

Volunteering for organizations that provide services to those less fortunate promotes empathy by emphasizing building relationships. Human interaction helps volunteers see people in need in a more positive light as they become increasingly attuned to their real-life challenges.

Volunteers naturally develop a heightened awareness of the real issues faced by those dealing with such challenges as homelessness and food insecurity. This is a positive step towards changes that could provide real solutions.

What type of volunteer work should I look for?

Because volunteers work for free, it is important to choose work that enriches your life. Volunteer work does not have to be fun, but it should be rewarding.

Although volunteer opportunities are not always well-advertised, nearly every community has a wide variety of opportunities from which to choose. Therefore, it is okay to be selective.

You may enjoy activities that would not necessarily lend themselves well to a career but would be enjoyable as occasional or temporary volunteer occupations. Consider businesses or community organizations that offer services that align with your interests.
For example, if you enjoy athletic activities, volunteering for coaching services might be rewarding. If you enjoy teaching, tutoring may be a good option. If you enjoy the outdoors, you could volunteer for scouting or gardening organizations.
If you have strong convictions about a cause, you may be surprised to find other local organizations that support the same cause. You can also volunteer virtually. Many online organizations accept editorial content or other forms of volunteer support.
Most communities have political organizations, civil rights organizations, civic groups, and agencies that help marginalized populations such as the homeless, all of which rely on volunteers.
Volunteering strategically can further your career. You can list volunteer positions on your resume, which is especially helpful for new graduates starting a career. Volunteer opportunities that align with your career goals will boost your resume, allow you to test your career choice before you start, and provide you with better insights into your industry.
Select work you can look forward to accomplishing. If you do not enjoy working with the public, look for opportunities that involve behind-the-scenes work. If you prefer to work indoors, look for an indoor opportunity. Most importantly, make sure your values and your personality are compatible with the organization, fellow volunteers, and those you serve.
While volunteer positions can help you build skills, it is best to start with a position where you already have some skill or experience. After you prove yourself in the areas of your existing skills, you may have an opportunity to learn additional skills.

How can I find volunteer opportunities?

Narrowing down the types of volunteer work you wish to offer will make it easier to find work.

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is perhaps the easiest way to find work, particularly if you live in the community where you grew up. Notify your friends, family members, teachers and anyone else you know that you are looking for a volunteer opportunity. Call local businesses and ask if any offer summer internships or offer to provide them with a free service.

Social Media

Social media gives you the benefit of your network of friends as well as friends of friends and their friends. If you have a LinkedIn profile, you can also search for opportunities there.

Chamber of Commerce

Your local chamber of commerce provides a detailed business directory where you can also learn about local charity organizations. Chamber of commerce personnel are usually knowledgeable about local volunteer opportunities and may even offer you an opportunity themselves.

Volunteer Websites

The internet hosts several websites specifically set up to match volunteers with businesses and organizations, such as VolunteerMatch.

Needs in Your Community

If you are aware of an unmet need in your community, you could volunteer to meet that need and even recruit other volunteers. For example:

  • Elderly or disabled shut-ins could benefit from various forms of assistance:
    • Visitors
    • Telephone check-ins
    • Rides to the doctor or grocery store
    • Assistance with personal errands
  • The community may need a facelift:
    • Trash pick-up
    • Artistic murals or other forms of painting
    • Cleaning or pressure washing of buildings
  • The local blood bank may benefit from a blood drive.
  • Job-seeking individuals may need help with resumes.
  • Needy children may benefit from a clothing drive or school supply drive.

Types of Organizations that Typically Need Volunteers

The following organizations are almost always in need of volunteers:

  • Animal shelters
  • Homeless shelters
  • Soup kitchens
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Libraries
  • Schools
  • Disaster relief organizations
  • Parks and recreational facilities
  • Community centers
  • Senior centers
  • Meals on Wheels
  • Civil rights organizations
  • Political organizations
  • Advocacy groups
  • Arts and cultural organizations
  • Nursing homes
  • Adult education
  • Holiday gifting organizations
  • Summer camps

Popular Types of Volunteer Work

No matter what type of work you prefer, there is most likely a volunteer opportunity available for you. Popular volunteer activities include the following:

  • Fundraising
  • Teaching/tutoring
  • Collecting, preparing or serving food
  • Coaching a sport
  • Mentoring youth
  • Providing office services
  • Providing general labor services
  • Transporting goods or people
  • Child care assistance

How to Apply for a Volunteer Position

Applying for a volunteer position should be treated similarly to applying for a paid position. Most volunteer positions will require you to undergo a background check, especially positions that require you to handle money or work around children or vulnerable adults.

Before you begin your search, prepare a resume as if you were looking for a job, and decide ahead of time the number of hours you are willing to work and which days and times you are available. This will show the organizations that you are a serious volunteer prospect who will take the position seriously.

Tips for a Successful and Rewarding Volunteer Experience

Starting a volunteer position can be exciting, but it does require work and a level of commitment, even though you are there by choice. You may find that the work is less glamorous than you expected. Ideally, your connections with other volunteers, the organization and members of the community will help the work continue to seem worthwhile.

The below tips will ensure your volunteer experience brings you joy and satisfaction.

Remember Why You Volunteered

Whether you volunteered because you support the cause, you want to gain work experience or you are trying to expand your network, keep your reason for volunteering in the forefront of your mind. Remind yourself every day of your reasons and celebrate each time a goal is met.

Be Passionate

Volunteerism is about people. It is about creating a better business, a better community or a better world. Focus on connections and building relationships. Think of the work as your excuse to be there and the people as your focus.

Be a Stickler About Your Time

Whatever your original maximum hourly time allotment is, you are not obligated to give more time. You are already giving your time freely. If you do not want to devote more time, learn to say no from the beginning. This will prevent burnout.

Give It Time

If you start a volunteer position and discover that you don’t enjoy the work, give it some time. Commit to a minimum time frame, such as a month, and devote your best effort. After a couple of weeks, you may be glad you stayed.


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