With the holiday season fast approaching, many people are beginning to think about finding the perfect gifts for family and friends. Gifts are wonderful, of course, but there’s something far more valuable you can give than presents: your time.
Your time is even better than money. A financial donation to an organization will help with their existing needs, but volunteering is what keeps the organization and the cause afloat for the future. Because when you volunteer, you help raise awareness for the cause and the organization
There are dozens of ways you can offer your time: preparing meals for the homeless, doing errands for elderly neighbors, serving on a community board, helping out at your local animal shelter, coaching a local youth team, organizing a food co-op, donating your free time at a hospital.
Whatever type of volunteering you choose, you’ll not only benefit others – you’ll benefit yourself. As the great American educator Booker T. Washington said, “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”
The surprising benefits of volunteering
It connects you to others: Volunteering allows you to connect to your community and make it a better place. Even helping out with the smallest tasks of day-to-day living can make a real difference to the lives of people, animals, and organizations in need. And volunteering can benefit you and your family as much as the cause you choose to help. Volunteering helps you make new friends, expand your network, and boost your social skills.
It makes you feel like you have more time: Research has shown that those who volunteer their time paradoxically feel like they have more of it. “It’s not related to feeling more connected, it’s not related to feeling like your time is more meaningful,” said Cassie Mollinger, a Wharton marketing professor and one of the contributors to the research. Rather, “Spending time on others makes you feel very effective and that you’ve accomplished a lot.”
It boosts your self-confidence: When you use your skills and resources to do good for others, it provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride, and strengthen your sense of identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.
It helps you stay physically healthy. Many people who volunteer say that helping others gives them a good feeling inside, something that researchers call a “helper’s high”. There seems to be an actual physical sensation that occurs when people help others that makes them experience greater energy and strength, reduced depression and increased feelings of self-worth. Other studies have linked volunteering to better overall health and lower stress levels.
It can improve your career: Enhancing your career outlook is one of the most precious benefits of volunteering. It gives you the opportunity to practice essential workplace skills: teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, organization. And volunteering always looks good on a résumé: it makes job applicants more appealing to hiring managers.
It makes you happier: Researchers at the London School of Economics found that the more people volunteered, the happier they felt. Volunteering builds empathy, strengthens social bonds and makes you smile – all factors that contribute to happiness. While happiness is hard to quantify, it’s most likely the result of a combination of all the benefits of volunteering and how they resonate with each person.
How to find a way to give your time
There are many ways you can get started with volunteering. Look around your community and see where you can offer help, or see what volunteering opportunities your company offers.
You can also get involved by using Facebook or LinkedIn to find a charity that interests you or to connect with an organization in your network.
There are also some great websites you can use to find local opportunities and projects: visit VolunteerMatch, a site that will match you with people who are passionate about and committed to your cause, and who can help when and where you need them. Or if you want to put your professional skills to work, visit Catchafire, a site that matches skilled professional volunteers with nonprofits to help them achieve their missions. You can also check out LinkedIn’s For Good program to find skill-based volunteering, board service, or mentoring opportunities.
If you’re not sure what kind of volunteering best suits your personality and your passions, this article is a step-by-step guide to finding an opportunity you’ll enjoy and stick with. Remember, the best volunteer experiences benefit both the volunteer and the organization. If you’re not enjoying yourself, maybe you need to switch to a new project. When you give the gift of time, you’re allowed to have a good time doing so!