How volunteering is good for your mental health
Published by: LifeWorks,
Volunteering is a great way to do something for others, and research shows that it benefits people of all ages through increasing feelings of self-esteem, respect, motivation and well-being. Simply put, doing good does you good.
Understanding why you want to volunteer
Before you get started, think about why you want to volunteer. Which benefits do you care about most? Volunteering may have benefits for both your personal and work life. Your reasons for wanting to volunteer might be:
- Volunteering can be more than a way to fill your free time. It can help you “give back” or make a difference in the lives of others.
- There’s a social issue or a political issue that’s important to you.
- You get to spend time doing something you enjoy, like traveling abroad.
- Meeting new people and learning new things.
- If you have children, you may want to develop a stronger bond with their school community by helping with activities.
- It can be a way to gain new skills and work experience that may advance your career.
- Sharing your current skill set to help fundraising programs for your community or disadvantaged youth.
- Gain confidence by trying out a leadership position as a volunteer.
- Develop professional contacts by volunteering at the local chamber of commerce.
Did you know that post-secondary institutions, employers, and other institutions often recognize volunteer experience as “on-the-job” experience?
Finding the organization that’s right for you
Many resources can help you find the kind of project you’re looking for.
Ask friends and co-workers. They may know of organizations that would interest you. If your employer has a public relations, communications, or community relations team, check with them for ideas.
Spread the word on social media. Your connections on Facebook or Twitter may have good ideas even if they don’t live in your community. Check Volunteer Match – an organization that strengthens communities by making it easier for good people and good causes to connect.
Ask about opportunities at your place of worship. Most faith traditions allow you to get involved on at least two levels: through on-site activities at your place of worship — such as baking for or serving coffee at a coffee hour — or through secular community-wide projects that the faith tradition supports, such as collecting toys for a toy drive.
Check your newspapers and their websites. Many community newspapers list volunteer opportunities or publish volunteer requests for local organizations.
Join the parent-teacher association at your children’s school. You can help out either by serving as an association board member, or by talking with other parents, teachers, and staff about other ways to get involved. You could volunteer to work on school fundraisers, chaperone a field trip, in the classroom, or at a hot lunch day or assembly day.
Look into local chapters of national or international organizations. These groups may be of special interest to you if you often travel for work or may be transferred because they allow you to connect with members around the country or world. You might look into Kiwanis International, which focuses on projects that help children; Rotary International, whose members try to improve their communities; or the Jaycees, a group for 18-to-40-year-olds who want to develop leadership skills through service and other projects.
Search online. Volunteer Canada helps people connect with hundreds of programs around the country that help at-risk populations such as older adults, children at risk, and people with disabilities.
There may be a section dedicated to open volunteer opportunities on The United Way’s website. You can visit the national website for direct links to your local United Way chapter. In the UK, check GOV.UK or Do-it for an online database of local volunteering opportunities. For federal agencies open to volunteers in the US, check USA.gov to find out how to volunteer in your local community and give your time to help others.
So, you found the organization you want to volunteer for – now what?
- Do your homework. Schedule a visit and a tour of the organization. You might be asked to come in for an interview, complete an application or supply references.
- Speak with the right person. Speak with the volunteer coordinator or the director of the organization.
- Learn about the organization’s mission and goals. Ask for a brochure or visit the organization’s website to get background information.
- Ask how the organization trains volunteers. Find out about time commitments. Ask how much time the organization expects from its volunteers.
- Talk with other volunteers. Before you get involved, ask how other volunteers rate their experience with the organization.
Making the most of volunteering
After you’ve begun volunteering for an organization, you may want to establish a positive, long-term relationship. Try to:
Stick with it. You may not know right away whether a position will work out. Try a volunteer opportunity for several months before deciding whether it’s right for you.
Set limits. An organization may ask you to do large and time-consuming tasks. You may welcome these when they fit into your schedule. Be careful not to take on too much, which can lead to burnout.
Be realistic. Handing out treats at a walk for charity might bring quick thanks, but long-term care facility residents may not show their gratitude for every visit. Choose volunteer work that provides the level of accomplishment you need.
It is OK to take time off or move to another group. After you’ve worked for an organization for a while, you may see that it isn’t for you.
Remember, volunteering is a job and organizations do count on you to be there when you say you will, not on a whim. Treat the commitments you make as a volunteer as seriously as you would your job.