The Personal and Professional Benefits of Volunteering

The Personal and Professional Benefits of Volunteering

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 Grinchlike feelings. But making room to start (or continue) volunteering could not only land you on Santa’s nice list but also gift you with multiple professional and personal benefits. 

Here’s a closer look at five benefits of volunteering.

1. Improve 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 show that that warm, fuzzy feeling is real—and that giving your time to others has real, 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 volunteering:

  • Giving and volunteering helps your body release more endorphins—chemicals that help relieve pain and reduce stress. 
  • A 2006 study published in PNAS found that giving to charities activates regions of the brain associated with reward reinforcements and social attachment, creating a “warm glow.”
  • A 2006 study by Johns Hopkins University and University of Tennessee researchers found that people who offered social support to others experienced decreased levels of blood and mean arterial pressure.
  • 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” 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. 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.

3. 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.

4. Grow your network

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.

5. Bolster 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.

Employers benefit too

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

Make sure to review your company’s specific 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.

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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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