5 Personal Benefits of Volunteering

December 24, 2010

Summary:
You can gain 5 benefits from volunteering. Volunteer to benefit others and yourself. “Selfish” volunteers actually volunteer more than purely “altruistic” volunteers.


Volunteering: Give a Little, Get a Lot.

Psychologist Mark Snyder was surprised to find that nearly 1 of every 3 adults in the United States regularly volunteers:

I was struck by how much easier it was to come up with reasons why people shouldn’t volunteer than why they should. It’s time consuming, it’s stressful, it takes time away from your job or family or leisure.

What propels so many people to donate their time and energy?

The 5 Reasons that People Volunteer

Snyder and his colleagues identified 5 motivations for volunteering:

  1. Values: To satisfy personal values or humanitarian concerns.
  2. Community concern: To help a community such as a neighborhood or ethnic group to which you feel attached.
  3. Esteem enhancement: To feel better about yourself or to escape other pressures.
  4. Understanding: To gain a better understanding of other people, cultures or places.
  5. Personal development: To challenge yourself, to meet new people and to make new friends, or to further your career.

Volunteer for Something that Matches Your Motivations

  • Younger volunteers usually volunteer for career-related reasons.
  • Older volunteers usually volunteer to satisfy their abstract values such as “good citizenship” and “contributing to their communities.”

People whose experiences best matched their motivations were more satisfied with the experience. Those same people also said that they’d be more likely to continue volunteering.1

Snyder’s team found that people who have more seemingly “selfish” motivations — esteem enhancement, personal development and understanding — are more likely to stick with a volunteering organization longer than people with more “other focused” motivations, such as values.

The most committed, productive, and long-term volunteers seem to be those whose volunteer experience satisfies a personal agenda:

Volunteers do best at helping others when in the process of helping, they help themselves, too.

Snyder agrees that volunteering benefits both the volunteer and others:

Volunteering can have an altruistic component, reflecting a true concern for the welfare of others, but also an egoistic component, in that the volunteer receives clear benefits to the self. It’s better to see the two feeding each other, rather than being in competition.

If you’d like to volunteer, do something that you’ll love, something that is personally rewarding. Ask yourself:

  • What activity would you like to try doing?
  • Which people would you like to meet?
  • What industry would you like to learn about?
  • What skill do you want to improve?

The more motivated you are, the more rewarding the experience will be, and the more you’ll contribute to the recipients of your volunteering.

Where Should You Volunteer?

Personally, I’ve experienced 5 benefits from volunteering with Junior Achievement.

For teenagers, here are 20 ways to help other people (and yourself) by volunteering.

The video belows shows how we all volunteer daily, even by just holding a door for someone. It explores why now is a great time to volunteer.

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  1. 1998, Clary, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 74, No. 6, pages 1516-1530. []

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc Koetzle April 13, 2011 at 1:20 am

There is also a debate about whether volunteering should go on a resume. I fully support that volunteering belongs on a resume (so long as it satisfies the ‘relevancy’ criteria). Volunteering often asks for the same results, and requires the same skills and effort, as a full time job.

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Kevin Kane April 13, 2011 at 3:39 am

Hi Marc,
Some might call me selfish, but I strongly prefer to do volunteer work that pushes me to tackle problems I’ve never solved before, to lead with greater responsibility, and to build new skills.

Because if I volunteer to do something that I’ve already done in my paid job, then it’s just no as motivating.

I also love doing volunteering that lets me meet quality people who are doing the kind of work that I care about. All in all, volunteering with the American Marketing Association of Toronto has been awesome for me.

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