There is a myth about volunteering that still remains front of mind for many when considering giving their valuable time, and that is that volunteering is all about giving when in fact quite the opposite is true.
Volunteers stand to receive far more than they give and here are the many ways in which volunteers reap the rewards of their efforts in no particular order:
1. Gaining valuable experience and knowledge
Volunteering is a great way to get ‘real life’ experiences in many areas of human endeavour, this is particularly noteworthy for students who are often faced with the catch 22 of requiring experience to get a job but needing a job to get the experience. For example, students interested in digital media could offer their services to their local sports club to manage digital media assets such as websites and video production and in this way build a portfolio of work to be used to gain future employment. In fact, many clubs and organisations offer financial help to their volunteers to put them through formal training to get the skills required to help their club.
Networking is not a skill that is taught in schools and yet it is often the difference between those that make it to the top of their chosen occupations and those that do not. Volunteering offers exposure to other people that have skills or connections that you can benefit from in your own personal life or occupation.
3. Social benefits
Volunteering offers the opportunity to meet others and extend circles of friendship. Many volunteers have found their life partners or life long friends through the act of volunteering.
4. Becoming part of a community
One of the most difficult challenges for those seeking to start in a new country, state, city, town or community is to set up their support networks and gain valuable information about their new surroundings – where the doctors are, best places to eat, bank locations, bus services and so on. Volunteering, whether it is at the local sports club, the local lifesaving club or emergency services, offers an avenue for newcomers to feel a part of their new community.
5. Self esteem
For the majority of us, giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves. Volunteering allows us the opportunity to help others and along with that comes the sense that we are contributing to the communities in which we belong and to the lives of people in our communities and that in turn makes us feel better about who we are.
In a world where we often have to put ourselves first in order to get ahead, where our day-to-day challenges can make us self-centred and absorbed in our own lives, volunteering becomes a circuit breaker. Being a volunteer means you are helping others, that you’re focused on the welfare of others for no reward apart from the satisfaction of doing so. This form of selflessness can provide the balance to being concerned with self and stop us from becoming too obsessed with the challenges of our own world that could lead to mental health issues such as stress and anxiety.
7. Direct impact
Many of us work in jobs where we do not see the end results of our actions. Volunteering offers us the opportunity to directly impact on a person or organisation through coaching, mentoring or contributing of skills. You may never get to speak to the customer that you send an invoice to as part of your job but every word you say as the coach of your junior basketball club will have a direct impact on the kids you coach.
8. Help organisations survive
Many organisations are dependant on volunteer resources to stay operational – local clubs, welfare and charity organisations, community theatres and so on. Your contribution as a volunteer could mean the difference between those organisations being able to hold events to raise funds and survive or go under.
9. Helping kids stay healthy and happy
Without volunteers, many of our local sports clubs simply would not exist and our kids, and generations to come would be deprived of the opportunities to keep fit and socialise and this would have disastrous ramifications in terms of health and wellbeing.
10. Saving a life
Yes this may seem dramatic but it is true. And this is not just the case for lifesavers or emergency service volunteers but can also apply to the many who work in charitable foundations or even sports clubs. Sometimes the actions or words of a volunteer could mean a meal to provide the strength or the words to provide the strength to get through the day. Words that can inspire and provide direction to lost souls and convince them that they have alternatives. Volunteers not only change lives but they can save them.
Recently I had the pleasure of visiting the Liverpool Football Club of England to spend a day with them and see how they worked with their community. Liverpool is one of the most iconic sports organisations in the world and this all came about as a result of my volunteering for the Reagan Milstein Foundation (www.reaganmilsteinfoundation.com). Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected such a gift beyond measure – just another example of what can happen when you give up your own time for the benefit of others.