Few things are more fulfilling than volunteering. We may work to help the less fortunate, support causes and organizations we care about, or even improve our communities. In return, we gain experience, self-esteem and maybe even lifelong friends. So, what is volunteering and why is it important? There are many types of volunteering activities we engage in for different reasons.
The right types of volunteering for each individual comes down to the things we care about. When we identify causes that are important to us, volunteering can be both fun and fulfilling. Let’s take a look at what volunteering is, why it’s important and some of the most popular types of volunteering.
What is Volunteering?
We could get into quotes about engagement and community service, but basically, volunteering is doing voluntary work that serves a cause. Maybe it’s helping the elderly feel more alive for an afternoon. Maybe it’s building a home for a family who recently lost theirs. It could even be as simple as cleaning up the neighborhood. The important thing is that we exchange our labor for a sense of giving back. That’s why we volunteer. But that’s not the only reason.
Why We Volunteer
Our time is precious. We don’t have a lot of it to waste on any given week. If we’re going to donate our time and skills, there must be a great reason or two to do so. Volunteering provides a lot of benefits that make it a worthwhile time investment.
You’ll get the most out of your volunteering experience if you choose something that closely aligns with your values. For instance, if you love animals, try volunteering to help animals. Maybe working with an organization to support a cause you’re passionate about is something you can get behind. If you feel strongly about feeding the elderly, a meal delivery service may be more your style.
You can also focus on unique skills you may have. If you’re good at maintaining websites, there are probably community organizations that would love your help. Maybe you could help write a newsletter or press release that supports community events. Volunteers to fill skilled positions are often in short supply.
At the end of the day, there’s no wrong cause. You just need to find something you believe in. Once you decide how you want to volunteer, there are wonderful personal benefits you can expect to see.
Volunteering Pays in Experience
One benefit of volunteering is that it gives us experience in things that may be out of our comfort zones. Choosing to volunteer for opportunities that utilize our labor can also give us valuable experience in our chosen career field.
If we choose to build homes for someone who lost everything, we may get good experience in construction. If we choose to help out at the local animal shelter, we can learn about how to care for animals. We can even gain business and organizational skills by helping out with the local farmer’s market or music festival. Volunteering teaches us new skills and allows us to practice them.
Volunteering Introduces Us to Great People
Getting out there and interacting with members of the community is the definition of civic participation. When we volunteer, we usually find ourselves working with others. Meeting and working with others who give their time is a great networking opportunity. You get a chance to talk with others and share what makes you tick when you’re not volunteering. The people we meet at volunteer sites can become our friends or coworkers. Those connections can even open the door to employment opportunities we’re interested in.
Volunteering Makes Us Feel Good
The biggest benefit we get out of volunteering is the way it makes us feel. Doing good for others makes us feel good about ourselves. We also learn the value of civic and social responsibility initiatives. It’s a great feeling knowing that what we’re doing truly makes a difference to the community and its residents. Knowing that we’re building the society we want to live in is incredibly rewarding.
Some Companies Recognize Volunteer Work
There are a lot of companies that value employees who give back. Some will even allow you to take time off to volunteer. They understand that the boost we receive from doing good makes us more productive and empathetic. We feel good about ourselves and that is reflected in our work.
The Most Popular Types of Volunteering
There are a ton of volunteering opportunities out there, so choosing one can feel a little overwhelming your first time. Not only do you need to identify a cause, but you need to identify what you can do to help. That may be one of the reasons recruitment is one of the most common volunteer management challenges. Luckily, it’s not too difficult to get started without too much effort.
The best place to start is locally. Some of the most popular types of volunteering activities can be found right in our own backyards. A quick internet search can probably turn up some great opportunities. If you’re still having trouble, connect with the people in your community organizing programs to find out what’s available. What is community organizing, and how can we get involved? Let’s look at some popular examples.
Working with Animals
Of all the types of volunteering opportunities out there, working with animals is one that most people love. Depending upon where you live, there may be opportunities to work with domestic or wild animals. Each offers benefits that the other doesn’t.
Most communities have a local animal rescue that could use some help. Every day, animals are mistreated or given up. Many of these animals end up at the local rescue. Volunteering to work with those animals allows us to use our power for good.
Another benefit that accompanies animal volunteering activities is the animal interaction. Spending time with animals has been proven to lower blood pressure, decrease feelings of loneliness and boost your mood. It can also connect us with the natural world. Even though we aren’t being paid, these intangible rewards are priceless.
If you live in an area with a local animal sanctuary, this is another great volunteering opportunity. It’s also another fantastic means of connecting with nature and learning about the natural world. Depending upon where you live, there may be sanctuaries for reptiles, big cats or birds. Choose one that you feel comfortable with.
Working with the Elderly
Another wonderful local volunteering activity is working with the elderly. Chances are, you have a local senior center that would love to have you working with their residents. Many residents don’t receive visitors very often, and spending time with volunteers may be the highlight of their week.
You can plan activities or just spend some time talking about shared interests. It will make you feel great knowing that you’ve done something good for someone else. If you’re thinking of going into an employment field that works with the elderly, you’ll also get great experience through this volunteer activity.
Volunteer in Hospitals
Another place that can usually use some volunteers are hospitals. Patients spend a good amount of time indoors, and some rarely see visitors. Volunteering in your local hospital provides much-needed help.
In addition to providing cheer for the patients, you can also get some great career experience through hospital volunteering. Maybe you want to work in healthcare. Volunteering in hospitals is a great way to learn the ins and outs of the profession. Maybe you simply want to work with people. Volunteering in hospitals gives you a good cross-section of the population to interact with.
Community development volunteering is another great way to help people in your region. With community development volunteering, you’ll identify needs in the community and help fill the needs gap.
If you live in a food desert, maybe that means planting and maintaining a community garden. If a storm has recently ravaged a neighborhood, maybe that means helping to rebuild homes for displaced residents. With extreme weather becoming more common, the importance of community development volunteers in the future is hard to overstate.
Community development volunteering can also provide us with the fundamentals of advocacy. What is advocacy? Advocacy is raising public awareness and support for a cause. The more you know about the problem, the easier it is to be a part of the solution.
Help Beautify the Neighborhood
Some types of volunteering are incredibly simple but deliver benefits that are immediately visible. One of those is cleaning up the neighborhood. Not only are you doing something good for the environment, but you are beautifying the place where you live.
It can be as simple as picking up trash on your way to the store, school or work. Get yourself a grabber and a plastic bag and you can feel great about your walks. If you want to take it a step further, get a group together and adopt a highway. You’ll invest maybe an afternoon a month, but your local roadways will look like someone really cares.
Supporting Community Organizations
In many areas of the country, community-based organizations lack the funds to fully function. They rely on volunteers to help bridge the gap. These organizations may support the arts, host community events, or provide platforms for local entrepreneurs to serve their communities. They are important parts of preserving community culture and pride. Choosing to volunteer time and skills with community organizations impacts our communities and connects us to things we care about.
Getting Started Volunteering at an Early Age
With all the benefits associated with volunteering, it’s a wonder more of us don’t do it more often. Volunteering thrives with a community of willing volunteers, but it is not always an easy thing to access. It is why recruitment is one of the most common volunteer management challenges. Getting kids involved early is essential in helping fill the gaps volunteer organizations face.
Teaching kids about engaging in community service gives them a foundation on which they can build self esteem. Fortunately, getting kids into volunteering can actually be fairly easy. Kids want to engage with their community and help out. It can also be easy to find things that they genuinely care about. But, it goes deeper than simply teaching them the civic engagement definition and sending them off.
By most accounts, there are over 1.8 million nonprofits operating in the U.S. alone. The vast majority of them rely on volunteer help in one or more areas. That’s a lot of needs to be filled. Connecting organizations with young volunteers is a great way to ensure we can fill those needs as they grow. When young people see their actions positively impacting things they care about, they may be more likely to continue volunteering. This is crucial to organizations’ abilities to continue serving their communities into the future.
Work with Volunteering Professionals
Learning how to contribute to society is easier when you work with people who do it regularly. They can communicate all the volunteering benefits that make their lives more meaningful. They can also help you identify the types of volunteering that are available in your community.
Not all of us have the time or desire to volunteer regularly. Some of us are willing but don’t know where to begin. Learning about different types of volunteering and how to get involved from an early age can help fill that gap.