How Volunteering Makes You Healthier, Happier, and More Fulfilled
Research shows that people who volunteer feel more fulfilled overall, and they pay this forward, by building thriving communities.
“Everybody can be great…because anyone can serve,” the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, and it’s still true today. Volunteering opportunities are available to anyone, anywhere, and the possibilities are as varied as the causes you care about.
Being able to volunteer your time and skills, and then directly seeing how you made a positive impact, can be incredibly rewarding: Think of a student you tutored getting an A on a test, or seeing a beautiful and clean riverbank after a day picking up litter. Knowing you played a part in something good can feel pretty amazing.
But there’s more! Research shows that people who volunteer feel more fulfilled overall, and they pay this forward, by building thriving communities. So, if you want to make a difference that’s really meaningful, there’s an easy way to get started, and that’s volunteering.
Here are just a few reasons why volunteering is worth your time and effort.
Volunteering Makes You Healthier and Happier
Volunteering has been called the secret weapon of successful, happy people. Think about it: Volunteering gives you the opportunity to learn and develop new skills, like helping to build a new home, even if you’ve never done any carpentry before, or preparing meals for the elderly, even if you’re not much of a cook. Volunteering introduces you to new people, expands your network, and builds relationships, both with your fellow volunteers and the people you serve, which makes you feel more connected to others. And when you work alongside like-minded volunteers in pursuit of a common goal, studies show you become more confident, less prone to depression, and even healthier physically.
These wellness and better health benefits are pretty impressive: Researchers at Harvard Health found that weekly volunteering makes people feel just as happy as if they got a major salary boost. Additionally, studies have shown that adults who volunteer regularly have longer lifespans and are higher functioning overall, compared to those who don’t!
So, if you want a longer, happier, and more productive life, try volunteering.
Volunteering Makes Work Better
Volunteering as an individual is great, but the positive impacts really grow when it’s done on a larger scale, like through a company. Hundreds of volunteers from a law firm, for example, can repaint a community center in just a day or two. A team of nurses, volunteering at a week-long mobile clinic, can get flu shots to an entire neighborhood fast and effectively. We can think of corporate volunteering as a different way to define “good work.”
Nowadays, many businesses understand the importance of giving back, and have made volunteering a key part of company activities. Research shows that for employees, a company that volunteers gives them a sense of pride, a chance to develop new skills, and builds stronger connections with colleagues and the greater community. New hires want to know a company is civic-minded, too: A 2016 Deloitte study found that 61% of millennials look at a company’s community involvement when deciding whether to take a job, even if they rarely or never volunteer themselves.
Those health and happiness benefits we mentioned for individual volunteers? They apply to companies that volunteer, too. It turns out that businesses with active volunteer programs have employees that are more engaged, which leads to higher employee satisfaction levels and lower turnover.
So, if you want a more rewarding career, one where your work has purpose both for the company and the community, try finding a company with a strong volunteer program.
Volunteering Builds Modern Cities
We know volunteering can make happy lives and more fulfilling workplaces. On an even bigger scale, cities benefit from volunteers, too.
A modern city, or a desirable place to live, often means a safe and healthy community, lots of innovative employers offering good jobs, a vibrant arts and culture scene, and strong public services, like excellent schools and well-run public transit. But these things don’t happen by accident. They come about from actively committed citizens who take pride in their cities and want to make them the best they can be. And this type of commitment often leads to volunteering.
When it comes to a modern city that represents the power of volunteering, Minneapolis leads the way. CNN reports 37% of Minneapolis residents volunteer regularly, the most among U.S. cities. It’s also top-ranked for variety, coming out as number 2 on Volunteer Match’s Top 10 Cities with the Most Volunteer Opportunities. Because volunteering is such a big part of the city’s identity, it’s not surprising that it’s tops for quality of life, too: U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Minneapolis number 6 in its Best Places to Live List. (Fun fact: COIN CEO and co-founder Megan Schleck grew up just outside the city.)
Now, we’re not saying you have to pick up and move to Minneapolis – quite the opposite, in fact. If you see opportunities for volunteering in your own backyard, that’s all the more reason to get involved, because it’s likely your efforts will make your community better and improve your quality of life.
Here’s how to get going.
Make the Most Out of Volunteering
To make volunteering especially meaningful, take the following steps.
- Choose a cause you care about. If you love animals, for example, get in touch with local shelters and rescue organizations to see how they work with volunteers. You can research available volunteering opportunities in your area on sites like Create the Good, Idealist, the United Way, and Volunteer Match.
- Think about the types of activities you’d enjoy. You could approach volunteering as a way to share your existing skills, or as an opportunity to learn something new.
- Decide how much time you want to volunteer, and how often (e.g., two hours once a week). Make it manageable for your schedule.
- Recruit your friends or family. Shared experiences bring people closer together, and you’ll make an even bigger impact with more helping hands.
Volunteering provides a way to pitch in, live our values, and be the change we want to see in the world. The personal and community benefits are pretty incredible, too. So… how will you volunteer to make a difference?