Do you know what volunteering is? Do you know the benefits to you are huge? Do you know where to volunteer? I am happy to help!
Volunteering is defined as ‘freely offering yourself to a service or undertaking, to do so willingly and without pay’. Sounds ever so formal. Let’s break it down.
For me, I believe we are genetically disposed to give and as reward we feel what I call the ‘warm and fuzzies’. Both my sister and mother contribute a lot to their interests. Both have much busier diaries than I. I cannot commit quite so much time, and that’s all volunteering is. Can you give a little time to those in need?
Over the years I have volunteered with Scouting, leading groups of Explorer Scouts aged 14 to 18 in Redditch and London. I thoroughly enjoy supporting charities such as being a cheer squad steward on The Moonwalk route. I have taken part in Volu-tourism; volunteering with young people in Peru and Vietnam. I have had enormous once in a lifetime opportunities as a Games Maker for London 2012 Olympics and a poppy planter at the Tower of London. Most recently teaching conversational English with AngloVille in Poland and the Czech Republic. I have loved every minute!
“it makes me proud to be a part of something that can improve and impact other people’s lives”
Time is a precious commodity but volunteering doesn’t have to take over your life. Research shows that just two hours a week can provide many rewards, to both you and your chosen cause. That said, the most important thing is to volunteer only the amount of time that feels comfortable for you. If you can only give time monthly then you will still receive the ‘warm and fuzzies’, and your cause will benefit from your support.
Volunteering is to be fun, not another task on your to-do list. You can and you will get so much from it, I promise you.
I asked a couple of friends who volunteer, what do they do and why they do… it’s not just me. Go for it, don’t think too much about it, as Nike says ‘just do it!’
My childhood friend Kathryn, whom first invited and introduced me to Scouting continues to be involved, previously with Cubs for over 10 years, and now a Scout Leader with a weekly group of 10.5-14-year-olds in Northwich: “To help give others the fun, great opportunities I have had with Scouts. I enjoy seeing them develop, mature, learn problem-solving, life skills. Passing skills I have learnt on to others. Seeing mixed groups of children come together and appreciating them for who they are without the pressures of education and school life. Lastly, it keeps my own skills up and makes my life busy and interesting.”
My mum is always busy with her bowls club committee, public speaking and church activities “When I volunteer I always get something special back!”
My sister Bernice volunteers with City Pastors Birmingham once a month. To support the police and street wardens to keep the vulnerable safe on the streets and be a presence especially at night. It’s run by volunteers from 16 different churches in Birmingham. “A great chance to meet people from other churches and very rewarding when I know I have helped someone who might otherwise have been ill, injured or at risk.”
Contribute to a cause or your community
Volunteering offers vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes, and the local community. It doesn’t have to involve a long-term commitment or take a huge amount of time out of your busy day. Giving in simple ways can help.
Julia from Wellesbourne, UK recently joined her elder son’s football club committee: “I joined because when Ethan [younger son] was in hospital over Christmas last year, the Wellesbourne Wanderers donated Christmas presents to the children on the ward and it really touched me. I got approached to help with their committee to help organise events that the children can get involved in within the community and thought it was a good way to give back. Their actions meant a lot to me during hard times and thought it would be nice to be a part of that.”
Make new friends
One of the easiest ways to make new friends or strengthen existing relationships is to experience a shared activity together. While some people are naturally outgoing, others are shy and have a hard time meeting new people. This will give confidence as you are meeting regularly with people and a common interest. Volunteering will easily broaden your network of friends and volunteer acquaintances.
Michelle from Kentucky USA, now living in Poland “As an expat, I volunteer to make a difference in my new home country. It’s my way to learn about Poland and give back to the people that have made my time here an amazing experience. Plus, I feel like I’ve made new lifelong friends.”
Support your mental and physical health
Volunteering helps counteract the effects of stress, anger, and anxiety. The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being. Volunteering combats depression. By measuring hormones and brain activity, researchers have discovered that being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure. Human beings are hard-wired to give to others. The more we give, the happier we feel.
Volunteering increases self-confidence. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. A sense of pride and identity. The better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.
Volunteering provides a sense of purpose. Older adults, especially those who have retired or lost a spouse, can find new meaning and direction in their lives by helping others. Whatever your age or life situation, volunteering can help take your mind off your own worries, keep you mentally stimulated, and add more zest to your life.
Volunteering helps you stay physically healthy. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not. Older volunteers tend to walk more, find it easier to cope with everyday tasks, are less likely to develop high blood pressure, and have better-thinking skills. Volunteering can also lessen symptoms of chronic pain and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Advance a job or new career
Volunteering offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. It is also a great way to gain experience in a new field. For example, if you’re interested in nursing, you could help at a hospital or a nursing home. Your volunteer work might also expose you to professional organizations or internships that could be of benefit to your career.
Learn a new skill
Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many opportunities provide extensive training. For example, you could become an experienced crisis counselor while supporting a women’s shelter or expand your art history knowledge while donating your time as a museum guide.
You can build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you hold a successful sales position, you raise awareness for your favorite cause as a volunteer advocate. Developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills.
Explore your interests and passions.
Doing volunteer work you find meaningful and interesting can be a relaxing and a motivating escape from your day-to-day routine of work, school, or family commitments.
My travelling buddy Fiona was a member of her hockey club committee: “To keep the sport alive, and encourage people to play for fun. I was never the best player but I’m good at organising, so it enabled me to give back, by paying it forward.”
How to start volunteering
- Ask yourself if there is something specific you want to do.
- Do you want to improve the area you live in?
- Do you want to meet people different to you or try something new?
- Do you enjoy a specific sport or pastime?
- Are you creative? Social media or IT expert?
- Do you enjoy organising activities?
- Do you enjoy talking to the older generation or entertaining the younger?
Where can you help?
Contact and visit the club or group you’re interested in. Find out more out the expectations and meet people you’ll be volunteering with. Be comfortable with the organisation and understand the time commitment. Consider starting small so you don’t over commit at first. Give yourself some flexibility to change your focus if needed.
If volunteering overseas, choose carefully. Some volunteer programs abroad can cause more harm than good if they take much-needed paying jobs away from local workers.
Enjoy yourself. The best volunteer experiences benefit both the volunteer and those who need your help.
Brandon from Texas: “Each opportunity serves a different purpose, however, one thing that all my experiences have in common is that they help those in need. I enjoy serving others and I am fulfilled knowing that I made a difference in someone’s life.”
If you are in Europe or international please look at the country pages, I am endeavouring to update as quickly as possible!
If you are in the UK then information on available volunteer positions in your areas can be found online or contact organisations and charities directly:
I would love to hear about your experiences and any possible volunteer vacancies I can share on my website and social media. Good luck and have fun!