Professional Development & Learning Services

Volunteering Pays!

Volunteering Pays!

“Doing something for nothing? Are you kidding? My time is too valuable!” If you feel this way, you are not alone; many of us would agree that if you work you should get paid. So, what about people who just give their time away? What do they get out of it?  The answer may surprise some of us.

By definition, “volunteering” is providing free labor or working without pay (meaning monetary reward).  Yet, many of us find volunteerism to be rewarding in highly personal ways! For instance, volunteering may give us a chance to:

  • find purpose in our lives by doing something worthwhile with our spare time;
  • help others in need or “give back” to the community;
  • gain new knowledge, learn additional skills, and get practical experience in a different field or explore another area of interest;
  • safely challenge ourself to do more, or step outside our comfort zone to try something completely different;
  • expand our personal and professional network;
  • have fun, relax, pursue a hobby, or get a short break away from our normal work routine.

Considering that we will probably always have neighbors or organizations in need of our help, volunteering is an admirable thing to do. At the same time, in recent years fewer of us are giving freely of our time.  Volunteering is becoming a rarity in many communities which desperately depend upon free labor to provide needed services (following spending cuts and smaller budget allocations).

This is not a surprising trend when you consider that for many people “Time is money” and “there’s never enough time to get everything done!” In fact, more than half of working Americans don’t even use all the vacation time they earn to rest and relax – many citing “they can’t spare the time or money!”

If we are unable or unwilling to take earned time off to benefit ourselves, how likely are we to take time off to benefit others?

Probably slim – to none! Unless of course, there is a good reason that makes sense to us.

How do U fit?The unspoken questions: “If there’s no monetary reward in volunteering my time, what’s in it for me? Why should I give away my precious time for free?”

The answer to those questions – depends on who you are and what you need in return. It’s about finding the right fit for where you are in your life currently.

Below are a few examples of how volunteering may payoff for some of us.

Volunteering benefits Students:

Young people of every age have knowledge and skills to share. But many do not get the chance to further develop or hone these gifts or demonstrate their basic ability because they lack experience. Students need opportunities that would allow them to:

  • continually practice their skills, so they become even more proficient over time;
  • apply what they already know in practical and new ways; and
  • gather new information and learn additional skills alongside experts and mentors.

Volunteering provides students opportunity to build self-confidence, realize they have something of value to offer the world, bank needed experience (including failures and successes), all while they continue to learn and grow into their full potential.

Volunteering benefits Workers:

Once most of us begin to work all day, every day, we get caught up in the work-sleep-work cycle.  We become so focused on trying to establish ourselves in the workplace, that we forget (or deprioritize) the importance of family and friend-time, play, and downtime in or lives (a.k.a. rest and relaxation).

Volunteering time (even in short increments) brings balance and rejuvenates the mind, body, and soul.  Workers who take time away from their jobs and careers to do something they enjoy or something different from their everyday tasks, are usually more re-energized, focused, happier, and healthier when they return to work.  By giving time to a cause we believe in, we help others and ourselves at the same time. Workers can gain physical, mental, and emotional benefits from volunteering – even if they can’t afford to go away on vacation.

Volunteering benefits Transitionals:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, currently:

  • The median tenure (i.e. number of years that workers stay with same employer) is 4.6 years. [Longevity varies according to age groups.]
  • The median tenure for workers age 25 to 34 is 3.2 years.
  • The average person changes jobs ten to fifteen times (with an average of 12 job changes) during his or her career.

These trends indicate we can all expect to be between jobs at various times throughout our working lives. The reality is that as we mature in our careers, some of us may either decide to – or have to – make changes in our occupations. And we will spend some “free” time between gigs, trying to decide next steps or finding the next opportunity along our career path.

For workers who are used to belonging to an organization or team, losing a job or career can be devastating to the psyche; many people equate their purpose and value to the work they do and the groups to which they belong.  Being out of work for any duration can become a major stressor, placing many of us on an emotional roller-coaster.

So how can we make good use of this time between full-time jobs?  One possibility – volunteer to do something we always wanted to do but never could because of our job commitments and time constraints.  There will never be a better time!

In the process we can:

  • Learn new career skills to enhance our resume and strengthen our professional marketability. (We might just discover a new talent, hobby, passion, or skill we didn’t realize existed previously.)
  • Stay sharp by continuing to use our skills, abilities, and knowledge. (Over time, our brains will begin to file away whatever information and abilities we aren’t using regularly; so, while they are not lost, we may find ourselves becoming a little slower as those memories need to be retrieved and brought back to the forefront.)
  • Meet new people and expand our professional network. (According to Career One Stop, networking is key to job-hunting. Most job opportunities arise because of who we know rather than what we do.)
  • Find a new purpose and meaning in our life. (Possibly start a new career path or take the old one to new heights.)
  • Develop new friendships and expand our social circle. (It’s crucial to continually connect with people, especially those willing to support us through a difficult time.)
  • Rediscover our objectivity. (We might possibly feel better about our personal situation by realizing there are others with problems more serious than our own.)
  • Have fun and de-stress for a while. (Helps us to stay healthy and resilient.)

Volunteering benefits Retirees:

For those of us who are retired, we may find that we miss some aspects of our former work routine, including getting out of the house everyday!  Many of us are in good health and want to remain engaged both physically and mentally for as long as possible.

Volunteering helps to keep us feeling young, providing outlets for staying active and socializing with people of all ages.  We have a lifetime of experience and professional knowledge to share with other generations through mentoring opportunities.  We can finally devote time to causes and activities without family or work obligations having first priority in our lives.

Volunteering can also provide new purpose and direction in our retirement lives, filling our time with fun and adventures in other states or countries if we choose to travel elsewhere.

Volunteering benefits Businesses:

Individuals are not the only ones who are rewarded by volunteering their time to worthy causes – businesses can reap benefits as well.

When companies and organizations support volunteerism, everyone wins.  Employees and communities are rewarded for reasons already discussed, and the business is seen as a good employer, strong community partner , supporter of worthy causes, and goodwill provider.  Best of all, the resulting positive reputation is acquired without spending an extra penny in marketing!

Come to think of it – Volunteerism actually provides the best value and return on investment for everyone involved!

 Author: Julie Ramdial, President of U Learn Enterprises, Inc.