We all know how good it feels to be generous. Doing unto others is an important part of most religious doctrines and guides how most of us share this planet and lead lives that have meaning and purpose.
That sentiment especially true as the holiday season approaches, a not-too-subtle reminder that there’s time to flex our giving muscles. At the risk of sounding less than altruistic, giving back is beneficial on both sides. As a volunteer, you’re doing something great for your community, but you stand to benefit too. It’s hard to think of a better example of a win-win situation.
So how does volunteering benefit you, precisely? Volunteering widens your social networks, allows you to exercise your passion for a particular cause, connect with others in a meaningful way, improve your physical and mental health, increase your sense of purpose, and feel the personal fulfillment that comes from knowing you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. With all these upsides, the question is: why wouldn’t you want to be a volunteer?
Career-boosting benefits of volunteering
Try out a different field of study or a new career.
It’s a great way to get first hand experience and knowledge in your area of interest, explore new possibilities and meet people in the field with little or no risk, or making a long-term commitment.
Build out your resume or gain on-the-job experience.
This is especially true for recently arrived Canadians who need current Canadian work experience in order to gain employment in their fields. Volunteering gives you experience in resume writing, making applications and interviewing – essential skills in the world of work.
Hone existing skills or learn new ones.
Learn to exercise the parts of your brain that don’t frequently get a good workout, increase your confidence level, communicate better, and practice problem solving and teamwork. Many organizations provide free training to their volunteer workforce.
Create or expand your network.
Volunteering exposes you to new people, potential mentors and professional organizations you might not otherwise have access to or even consider. Meeting new people through volunteering opens doors to potential opportunities with organizations that are hiring, a new grapevine of information and tips, and referrals to people you might not be able to contact on your own.
Impress hiring managers.
Volunteering shows your passion for and willingness to commit to a cause. Often, HR departments cite volunteer experience on a resume as a deciding factor in their willingness to consider one candidate over another. Sometimes it’s just the thing to tip the scales in your favor – especially if the company you’re interviewing with shares the same causes. And it certainly provides you with valuable references when you’re job searching.
Gain ‘real world’ experience.
If you’re a new grad or just getting acquainted with a new field, you may not have had hands-on learning opportunities to put your new skills to use. Book-learning is great, but sometimes recruiters are looking for a little more. Volunteering is an ideal way to pick up on-the-job experience, particularly when you’re having trouble locating paid jobs. Willingness to commit and a desire to contribute are pretty much all you need to find meaningful volunteer opportunities.
Avoid idle time or boredom.
There are opportunities for both skilled retirees looking to fill their days and people with a desire to carve some time from their busy lives.
Move ahead in your organization.
It’s easy to become pigeonholed in your role because it’s what you know and excel at. You may not have the opportunity to learn new skills that would help you progress, because your time is dedicated to performing your current role. Volunteering gives you an opportunity to enhance or learn skills that’ll help you advance, like managing people, working with a team, organizing, delegating and communication.
Feel productive, and good about your contributions.
Maybe your job has become a dead end that you perform by rote. Volunteering can wake you up and remind you that it’s possible to enjoy what you do with people you like and share interests with. Or perhaps you’ve been unemployed, your job search is taking too long and you need to rebuild your fractured self-esteem. Volunteering can make you feel valuable and appreciated; and who couldn’t use a little – or a lot – of that?
Stay active in retirement.
Medical practitioners agree that retirees who volunteer report higher levels of well-being and good health, even among those who suffer from loss or chronic pain. Volunteering allows you to stay active in your field without committing the same level of time and effort.
How to make volunteering work for you
Find what you’re passionate about.
If you’re going to volunteer, do it because you believe in it! You’ll enjoy it more. After all, you’re donating your time – why spend effort on something you aren’t passionate about? Best of all, you’ll get to know and make friends with like-minded people. Are you an animal lover? Try volunteering with your local shelter. Are you a fervent environmentalist? Volunteer to clean up the local park. Are you passionate about the arts? A volunteering stint with your local community arts centre might be the way to go.
Treat volunteer work like paid work.
Just because you’re donating your time, it doesn’t give you free range to do as you please. Be respectful, dependable, and diligent. If you wouldn’t act the same at work, don’t do it when volunteering.
Hone your work ethic.
Take on more responsibility and more duties if time permits. It’s easy to get caught up in your ‘real life’ commitments like a full-time job and the kids. If everyone did the same, we’d live in a pretty selfish world. But if you’re in a good place and have the opportunity, why not pick up a little more? Volunteering can be addictive, once you realize how great that warm, fuzzy feeling of helping someone out is!
Know who’s in charge.
Most charity and non-profit organizations have boards made up of high-ranking political, business and social figures. Get to know them and connect. You never know where your next hand up will come from. If you’re established in your own career, you never know, you may be in a position to pay it forward to a young up and comer.
Consider internships, too.
Volunteering isn’t the only avenue for unpaid work experience. If you’re not able to find volunteer positions closely related to what you’ve trained and educated yourself for. While many recent grads find internships a slippery slope, many organizations (like Randstad) train their interns as if they were new hires and in the end, often end up hiring them on as employees once their internship is complete.
Have zero expectations.
Don’t go into volunteering with your hand out, wondering 'what’s in this for me?' At the end of the day, as a volunteer, you’re serving your community. Yes, there are some great implications for your career, but if those are the only reasons you’re considering volunteering, you might want to take a step back and reevaluate. The best, most effective volunteers offer aid and support first, and enjoy any perks second. In the end, you should feel like contributing to something worthwhile was reward enough!
Volunteering benefits everyone. It’s no longer just something well-heeled, high society ladies do to pass the time. It’s roll-up-your-sleeves, we-can-use-your skills, we- need-you work, a commitment to something more than the sum of its parts. It’s a win-win for everyone it touches. And couldn’t we all use a lot more of that?