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Win-Win Situations: The Value of Volunteering

By Martha Michael


The prevailing image of the volunteer experience brings to mind the relief, joy, smiles, and gratitude of the person on the receiving end of an act of kindness. Secondary is the image of the volunteer -- the humility, caring, and self-sacrifice of committing to help others without earning a paycheck. Often overlooked is the mental, emotional, and physical benefits that come from getting your hands dirty or putting in some time or elbow grease for the benefit of strangers.

April is National Volunteer Month, which highlights a unified value placed on the act of giving time to a favorite cause. Even the IRS rewards volunteerism.

According to H&R Block, the expenses you incur while volunteering enable you to receive a tax write-off from giving to a 501(c)(3) organization. Among the deductions allowed, volunteers can include the cost of a uniform employed for charity work and take a fee-per-mile deduction when they use their car for charitable purposes.

But in addition to getting a tax break, there are other benefits that are worth considering when it comes to putting someone else first.

An article by The Balance discusses a wide range of unexpected benefits when you volunteer.

Reduces loneliness - Ten percent of adults in the U.S. and United Kingdom report having no close friends, says a UK provider of counseling services called Relate. And nearly 45 percent say they feel lonely. As we deal with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and there are calls for social distancing and avoiding large crowds, those feelings of isolation and loneliness may be increased. Under normal circumstances, when you join forces with others through volunteerism, you spend less time isolated, which fosters deeper connections. Greater social opportunities are the first steps toward establishing a community of support. Also, bonds are more easily formed when people connect through service to a cause.

Increases emotional balance/offers emotional support - People suffering from mental health challenges, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, can gain relief from symptoms through volunteer opportunities. The lack of meaning that often accompanies mental disorders may be diminished by serving the mission of a nonprofit. When an individual is struggling from a sagging sense of self-worth, he or she can turn to charity work for a solution. But let’s be serious, everyone benefits emotionally from helping others; it feels good to make a difference.

Lengthens your lifespan - Studies show that seniors with a generous spirit live longer, according to an article by Live Science. It’s more than just the act of serving: individuals who help others for their own benefit don’t reap the same rewards; altruistic volunteers have a lower mortality rate than those who help others primarily for personal satisfaction.

There are a number of ways that people can help someone other than themselves. There is, practically, a charity to suit anyone who desires to help people, the planet, or their community.

Helping People (and Pets)

Volunteers are found helping the homeless, serving seniors, and saving the environment. The two main categories that benefit from the work of volunteers are people and animals, and individuals of all ages and stages can get involved.

An article by Money Crashers has a list of volunteer opportunities that don’t require previous experience. Most of them involve helping people directly, including:

  • National Parks
  • Food pantries
  • Libraries
  • Museums
  • Political campaigns

The types of people and places you can serve are too numerous to mention, as volunteers can be found providing assistance with money, addiction, veterans’ services, childcare, spiritual support, health challenges, and much more.

Helping the Planet

With the worldwide crisis of climate change, more nonprofits are reaching out to meet the needs incurred by natural disasters across the globe. There are many charities that follow up after an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, or other force of nature.

Feeding the world is a big priority as well. Ecological farming draws volunteers on many fronts. Host farms have needs that vary throughout the world, but all serve the same purpose -- to feed its citizens.

Organizations such as the Arbor Day Foundation rely on volunteers to keep their operations moving forward. A part of their mission is to plant and protect as many trees as possible to help prevent soil erosion and tackle the problem of pollution.

Another form of assistance aims to improve our waterways. Local communities host river cleanup events, while coastal residents and surfers gather volunteers to cull trash from the oceans and save wildlife.

Helping the Community

The act of volunteering encourages the growth of a stronger sense of community, both for the individuals who serve and the rest of society that benefits from their work. It builds goodwill that produces feelings of hope and galvanizes relationships.

Habitat for Humanity, for instance, develops programs that build community on both sides of volunteerism. By constructing homes, the nonprofit provides shelter to families in need by establishing new housing communities in the area. Volunteers forge relationships with fellow workers while making an impact on their own community by expanding affordable housing options for residents.

Coming together as a community can even produce tangible benefits for volunteers such as providing job prospects. Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build program was created so that more females could obtain construction skills. As a result, they have more employment opportunities plus they can save money remodeling their own homes.

But there are ways in which you can volunteer remotely that preclude having to go on-site and deal directly with groups of people. You may still derive a great deal of satisfaction from transcribing historical documents for the Smithsonian Institution, or sending cards, notes or letters once a week to someone undergoing chemotherapy treatment. There are likely many organizations that would appreciate help with their social media accounts, making phone calls, offering delivery/pick-up services.

To sum up the value of volunteering, making deliveries for Meals on Wheels isn’t a one-way street. There’s enough goodness to go around -- both to the cause you care about and to your own health and well-being. It’s a cost-benefit principle that may motivate you to sign up and serve.

In the end, you’ll be doing something for others as well as doing something for yourself.

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