7 Ways Volunteering Can Improve Your Life

If you haven’t volunteered because your intentions for doing so aren’t completely altruistic, don’t let that stop you. Extensive research into the motivations for volunteering shows that often, an act of volunteering has both an altruistic and egoistic, or self-serving, component. That’s not necessarily bad, researchers say, as the two can feed each other for the greater good. Here are seven great ways volunteering can help you while you help others.

1. You are actually doing something

Many of us have heard the disturbing new saying sitting is the new smoking, equating the act of sitting with the health dangers of a smoking habit. If that isn’t enough to get you off the couch and out of the house, committing to volunteer with a youth sports program or elder exercise class might be the added incentive you need. As a volunteer at the Y, for example, you can coach youth sports ranging from swimming to boxing or volleyball, teach group exercise classes, lead outdoor adventures hiking in nature and more. You’ll get some necessary exercise and the kids’ enthusiasm is sure to give you an additional endorphin kick as well.

2. You’ll get a sense of belonging

In our social media-saturated world, we may be more up-to-date with what our friends are doing, but research shows we feel a lot less connected with others. Loneliness is actually becoming epidemic. If being around people was all it took to cure loneliness, anyone who has co-workers or a family at home might be immune. But research shows the problem goes deeper than that, and the trick may be involving yourself with people with whom you share a common mission and who won’t trigger feelings of self-doubt. Fundraising for a nonprofit is one way into that rising-tide-lifts-all-boats community.

3. You’ll live in a better community

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t want to live in a clean, safe, vibrant community. And while your block or your neighborhood may be all of those things, chances are good that a nearby neighborhood isn’t faring so well. A troubled neighborhood in any town or city is bad for the community at large; homelessness, hunger, inadequate healthcare and disengaged youth all have a pernicious effect. There are myriad ways to mitigate these problems, from providing essential services to the homeless and feeding the hungry to tutoring youth. One place you can start is with Togetherhood®, the Y’s member-led volunteer service program that empowers diverse groups of Y members and neighbors to connect, plan and carry out community service projects.

4. You can improve your marketable skills

Research shows that volunteers are 27% more likely to find a job after being out of work than non-volunteers. Parents who are looking to re-enter the workforce after raising a family or who have been downsized, or recent college or high school grads looking for their first job, could all gain from some additional relevant experience. Volunteering, whether it’s coaching sports, doling out supplies, tutoring kids or lending a hand after a community emergency, helps build the skills essential to succeed in the workplace, such as teamwork, time-management, goal-setting and prioritization.

5. You can be the office hero

Forward-thinking companies have learned that employees want more than just a paycheck from their jobs. They want to feel connected to the mission, to have a sense of shared purpose and to feel they have an impact. Among the ways businesses are addressing these employee needs is by creating opportunities to volunteer as part of a company-wide initiative. If your company supports such activities, encourage your co-workers to join you at an upcoming event. If your company doesn’t, either work with your HR department to find a nonprofit to partner with or take the lead and develop an opportunity for your immediate group. Research indicates that volunteer service improves employee morale, engagement and retention.

6. You’ll be a stronger leader

There are only so many leadership roles in any organization. So while you may manage a few employees or a whole department, you may not have a voice in your company’s overall strategy. Still, those with experience in finance, management, marketing, strategy and more can have a meaningful role in shaping and guiding an organization through volunteer leadership positions at a nonprofit. For example, volunteers lead every YMCA. The board of directors, comprised of volunteers, is responsible for fiduciary oversight, CEO selection, philanthropic leadership and cause-driven strategies to ensure the Y is on strong footing to have the greatest community impact.

7. You’ll feel mentally stronger and possibly live longer

There has been extensive research on why people volunteer. Is it to make us feel better? Is it purely altruistic? After more than 20 years of study, research indicates that there are five main motivations for volunteering: to satisfy values, for community concern, for esteem enhancement, to gain understanding and for personal development. So while volunteering is often associated with something that matters to you personally, there is an added benefit: volunteering at least 200 hours a year—or under four hours a week—is associated with greater increases in physical well-being such as low blood pressure. Further, when your volunteer activities are other-focused, as opposed to purely for your own self-interest, research shows your mortality risk decreases.