8 Personal and Professional Benefits of Volunteering

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The food, the celebrations, the traditions: The holiday season has arrived! Amid the hustle and bustle, and as you wind down professional obligations to focus on personal plans, it may seem like your time is at an all-time premium. Just the thought of adding to your lengthy to-dos might stir up some Grinch-like feelings. But making room to start (or continue) to donate your time could not only land you on Santa’s nice list, but also gift you with the multiple professional and personal benefits of volunteering.

The benefits of volunteering

In the book Every Gift Matters, Carrie Morgridge homes in on the fact that every person and every gift can make a difference. Whoever you are, no matter how much or how little you have, your gift matters. The smallest, seemingly unimportant, donation can transform a life. And the best news is that giving and volunteering benefit and transform two lives: the one who receives and the one who gives.

So whether you are volunteering your time or donating small or large amounts, here are three surprises that giving brings to you, the giver:

1. Volunteering improves your physical and mental health

Ever heard people describe feeling warm and fuzzy when helping someone? Turns out that’s not just a turn of phrase. Studies have shown that that warm, fuzzy feeling is real—and that giving your time to others could lead to positive impacts on your health.

So during a time of year when stress levels can run rampant over securing that perfect gift or cramming a month’s worth of work into three weeks, consider the salve of volunteering. The boost to your mental and physical strength will help you tackle—and enjoy—the month ahead.

The science behind the benefits of volunteering:

  • Giving and volunteering may help your body release more endorphins—chemicals that help relieve pain and reduce stress. 
  • Data collected in the United Kingdom from 70,000 participants in a 2020 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies showed that those who volunteered “at least once in the last 12 months” also reported higher levels of well-being, compared with those who didn’t volunteer.
  • A 2020 Harvard University study found that adults ages 50 and above who volunteered 100 or more hours per year felt more of a purpose, encountered less depressive symptoms and saw reduced chances of early death.

2. Volunteering will help you find a sense of joy and purpose

While volunteering at a United Way Toys for Tots drive, Morgridge got to meet the families in need, listen to their stories, hear about their kids and then send them home with a car full of toys and food. “I was not the major donor of the event, nor was I an event coordinator—I merely showed up for my scheduled shift and was immediately blown away by the impact that the event had on me,” she says. “I understood why the same volunteers had been showing up year after year to help over 3,000 families.… The only regret I had about sharing my day with these families was that I hadn’t found the organization earlier in my life.”

Find a cause that brings you joy, and then invite your friends. They are looking for the same thing you are—fulfillment in giving—and most people just need to be asked. If you are being asked to join a friend, make today a yes day. Your life might never be the same.

3. It can help you refine your career goals

Think of volunteering as a way to test and refine your current skills—and maybe even develop new ones. 

Perhaps you’re just beginning your marketing career and a local hospital board is in need of a strategic plan to introduce their signature event to a new demographic. Gaining similar leadership experience might take years at your 9–5, but thanks to volunteering, you could be readying yourself for more stretch opportunities much sooner. 

Maybe a role in sales has always piqued your interest and your child’s school needs a fundraiser. Taking the lead offers a great, low-pressure way to determine whether securing corporate donors is something you’d be successful with or would want to eventually turn into a full-time position.

4. Volunteering benefits your soft skills development

Not only will volunteering give you an improved perspective on life, but it will also help you develop more soft skills that can help your career.

In a 2023 survey conducted by Business Name Generator, 84% of the 1,015 respondents indicated they believe new employees must possess soft skills and demonstrate them in the hiring process. The soft skills identified as most important? Nearly a quarter of respondents said communication, with 22% citing problem-solving, and time management and critical thinking tied at 19%.

What better way to develop these sought-after soft skills than by helping others through volunteering? You’ll develop these crucial skills while spreading goodwill and making people smile.

5. You’ll learn more about yourself

You can also glean information about your personality traits—are you more energized by the hours spent designing an invite or the interactions you had making meals for others?—and collaboration style—do you prefer working with a large board or a small group? More knowledge means you’ll be able to form a more accurate picture of how you’d like your future career path to look.

6. You’ll feel more connected to your community

When you take care of your own backyard, you’ll have a much greater sense of connection to your neighbors. Seek out food banks or soup kitchens in your community that provide services beyond the meals, ones that seek to fight poverty. Whether you have a little or a lot to give, helping your neighbors help themselves is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

7. Growing your network is a benefit of volunteering

Building connections and fostering relationships is often vital to career success, whether you’re hoping to make a move, searching for a mentor or trying to secure investors or partnerships for your business venture. Volunteering can introduce you to professionals whose paths you might not otherwise cross. After seeing your dedication and skills in action, these individuals might be more likely to accept a coffee invite or pass along a resume.

It’s important to stay in touch with the connections you make when volunteering, even after you’re no longer involved. Ultimately, you want to build and maintain meaningful relationships.

8. Giving back bolsters your self-confidence

Providing a service to others and helping them feel good about themselves can give you a sense of accomplishment and pride. These feelings naturally carry over into personal and professional endeavors. Perhaps you were the point person for your community’s clothing drive, seeing to every detail from communication to collection to distribution. Your success in that area might inspire you to raise your hand for more project management opportunities or speak up with an organizational idea you might not have felt comfortable sharing before.

There are volunteer benefits for employers too

Volunteering together builds camaraderie and boosts morale among employees, which enhances job engagement, making it beneficial for your company to offer some sort of volunteering opportunities. 

Make sure to review your company’s specific volunteer benefits, as many employers also offer corporate matching gift programs. Volunteerism pays dividends for both employee and employer. As the year comes to a close, realize the power that exists in taking some time to do good—for others and for yourself.

This article was updated November 2023. Photo by PeopleImages.com – Yuri A/Shutterstock.com

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Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.

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Carrie Morgridge is vice president of The Morgridge Family Foundation—which makes investments that transform communities through education, conservation, the arts, and health and wellness—and author of Every Gift Matters: How Your Passion Can Change the World.

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