Volunteering: why it’s so important and how we can make it more commonplace

The problem

The standard response I hear from people when it comes to discussing volunteering is “I don’t have time”. I think there is a terrible misconception that volunteers should be retired people who are looking to ‘fill their time’.

Now, whilst it is wonderful that anyone in this situation would want to volunteer, I honestly think that we need a huge cultural shift when it comes to how we think about volunteering.

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I think that volunteering should be something we all do throughout our life, from childhood, right through to old age. There are so many people who refuse to do anything unless they are being paid for it, yet, every day you will come into contact with people who are carrying out voluntary roles.

Why it’s so important

The more we give, the happier we feel. This is a well-researched field. Volunteering increases self-confidence and self-esteem. Through ‘doing good’ for others and the community, (which provides a natural sense of accomplishment) you feel better about yourself and feel happier and more grateful.

For me it comes down to one very simple thought process. I want to make the world a better place because I was here, and in turn multiply that by ensuring the world is a better place because my four children are here. So when one of my children volunteers to help out at a charity event, or support another child in school, or raise money for a particular cause, or volunteer their time to coach younger children at a sport they have a particular talent in – that all helps make the world a better place. 

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People choose to volunteer for a variety of reasons. For some it offers the chance to give something back to their community or make a difference to the people around them. For others it provides an opportunity to develop new skills or build on existing experience and knowledge. Regardless of the motivation, what unites volunteers is that they can find it both challenging and rewarding.

Offering your time or skills to help someone else can give you a sense of pride and identity. Being a volunteer can also be beneficial for your health. The Corporation for National and Community Service says that being a volunteer improves psychological and physical health. Volunteers reap the benefits of feeling a personal sense of accomplishment while building social networks that, in turn, support them in times of stress. So it’s a win, win!

20 great reasons to volunteer

  • Help others
  • Make a difference
  • Find purpose
  • Enjoy a meaningful conversation
  • Connect with your community
  • Feel involved
  • Contribute to a cause that you care about
  • Use your skills in a productive way
  • Develop new skills
  • Meet new people
  • Explore new areas of interest
  • Meet people
  • Feel proud
  • Impress yourself
  • Expand your horizons
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Make new friends
  • Strengthen your CV
  • Feel better about yourself

So many possibilities

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Years ago I was talking to someone about volunteering and they said “I don’t have time to stand in a soup kitchen” – now, I was a little taken a back. Firstly, aren’t we lucky that there are people who do that, and secondly, I hope that person never needs to use a place like that – maybe it will be shut that day?

Being a volunteer does not have to take hours of your time and there is no set way to volunteer. Perhaps it’s something you can do to help a local school? PTA, school governor, hearing children read. Perhaps you can help a local charity write their policies, or get on top of their filing system? Maybe your child’s sports team needs a coach? Perhaps you can help in a charity shop, or even visit your local nursing home an hour a week to talk to or read to residents? This kind of thing can go a long way towards combating loneliness – at the point my school governor duties come to an end this is what I’m going to do.

Think about either the skills you have OR the skills you need for your next job or project and use that as a starting point.

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