What Do You Gain From Volunteer Work?

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Volunteers are the backbone of many organizations. They answer phones, sort donated clothing, fundraise, rock babies to sleep and clean up after abandoned pets. Without them, many agencies couldn't accomplish their missions. Volunteer work that builds community, forms connections to professional and civic leaders and helps people in need provides multi-faceted benefits to both the volunteer and the community.

Opportunity to Express Gratitude

Some people volunteer to give back to organizations they feel helped them, or someone they loved. Volunteers who are motivated by gratitude prefer a hands-on, direct role, with face-to-face involvement with those they help. Such volunteers may express their gratitude by bell-ringing for The Salvation Army, sorting donations for Goodwill thrift stores, Boy Scout or 4-H group leadership, board membership, transporting hospital patients, answering phones or planning and implementing fundraisers.

Sense of Purpose

Many people have the means to solve problems, provide funds and create community resources, but need a place to direct their efforts. Gil and Troy Gillenwater's spur-of-the-moment decision to load a vehicle with $2,000 worth of groceries and drive toward the Arizona border on Thanksgiving Day in 1987 led to the founding of the Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation. The foundation supports orphanages, a soup kitchen, and new home construction in Agua Prieta, Mexico. Gil Gillenwater cites the sense of purpose he and other foundation volunteers feel when they return from a project as his motivation for volunteering.

Physical Benefits

Participants in a 2006 Johns Hopkins Center for Aging study, who volunteered 15 hours a week in local elementary-school classrooms, were more physically active and burned twice as many calories as other study participants who didn't volunteer. The 71 volunteers were black women over age 65 in the Experience Corps Baltimore program, and their responses to the questionnaire were compared to responses from 150 black women over 65 in the Baltimore Woman’s Health and Aging Studies. Researcher Erwin Tan believes the results would apply equally to all elderly persons.

Those who volunteer on house-building, well-digging and other physically demanding projects also gain strength and stamina, and people who volunteer to pet and walk animals improve their heart function and blood pressure.

Mental/Emotional Health

Volunteering eases depression and stress, according to respondents in a 2004 poll conducted by Community Service Volunteers, a charity in the United Kingdom dedicated to "building the skills and capacity of the voluntary sector." The highest reduction in depression, 71 percent, was among professionals who used their skills and experience to assist others. More than two-thirds of participants aged 25 to 34, and over age 65, reported reduced stress from volunteering.

Other Benefits

Businesses gain visibility and goodwill from volunteer projects; they also develop potential markets through strengthening the local economy. Businesses that provide educational opportunities help build a qualified local workforce. Without business-related volunteering, many community organizations would be hard-pressed to raise equal donations of time, money, resources and services from other sources.


About the Author

Jane Smith has provided educational support, served people with multiple challenges, managed up to nine employees and 86 independent contractors at a time, rescued animals, designed and repaired household items and completed a three-year metalworking apprenticeship. Smith's book, "Giving Him the Blues," was published in 2008. Smith received a Bachelor of Science in education from Kent State University in 1995.

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