Suffice it to say that the world I grew up in was dramatically different from today’s world. I was born in 1945, grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and started working full time in the 1970s. I pride myself on not living in the past, clinging to nostalgic memories to comfort me. We need to live each day, day by day; we must not go back in time or think too far into an aspirational future.
The only constant is change. We all know it’s true – and we experience it every day. Comparatively, “in the past”, change was slower. In every aspect, life develops gradually. Today, on the other hand, change of some form occurs every day — and sometimes even more frequently than that! It means a busy, sometimes frantic existence. It’s also the same feeling of “needing” an urgent, often uncomfortable, immediate response that we didn’t experience until the turn of the century.
There never seems to be enough hours in a day, week or month just to do our job, let alone do anything else. Research has shown that there are unintended (and often unconscious) negative consequences of having to immediately and constantly react to, and adapt to, change. Our health, our relationships, and our professional lives all show its negative effects. So when I write about the subject of volunteerism, I’m not surprised that most readers point out a lack of time to do more than they already do. I see… I really get it.
However, there are things to note before you flip the channel. My position is simple: Volunteering for something that matters to you and others can be a win-win situation. You personally win and the cause or organization you volunteer for benefits. If you look forward to the entire article, the reasons will become clear.
But first, a sideways: What follows is based on research from the American Psychological Association (APA), as well as books and research work from Dr. Stephen Trzeciak and Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli, author of the book Compassionomics: Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference. A data-driven book, it shows that compassionate doctors are associated with better patient outcomes. Their new book is called Miracle Medicines: 7 Scientifically Proven Ways That Serving Others Is the Best Medicine for Yourself.
Proven Benefits of Volunteers
Research conclusively shows that volunteering provides many proven benefits for both mental and physical health.
- Volunteering helps ward off stress, anger and anxiety. The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a positive effect on your psychological well-being. There is no better stress reliever than meaningful relationships with other people.
- Volunteering against depression. Volunteering establishes regular contact with others and helps provide a solid support system. This really helps protect you from depression.
- Volunteering can make you happier. Scientists who measure hormones and brain activity have found that helping others provides immense pleasure. Humans are programmed in their DNA to give to others. In short, the more we give, the happier we feel.
- Volunteering boosts self-confidence. When you do good for others, it gives a natural sense of accomplishment. Your volunteer role can give you a sense of pride and identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive outlook on your life and achieving your goals.
- Volunteering produces a sense of purpose. You can find new meaning and direction in your life by helping others. Whatever your “life situation,” volunteering can help you take your mind off your own worries – at least temporarily – while keeping you mentally stimulated and adding zest to your life.
- Volunteering promotes and helps maintain physical health. Recent medical studies provide data showing that those who volunteer have lower rates of early death than those who do not. Volunteers tended to be more physically active, found it easier to cope with daily tasks, were less likely to develop high blood pressure and had better thinking skills. Volunteering can also reduce symptoms chronic pain and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Consider the Time Commitment
Hopefully, you’ve seen the benefits I just outlined, and you’re now motivated to at least consider adding a voluntary component to your lifestyle commitment. This begs the question of how much time you can devote and where you can volunteer. This decision, along with due diligence up front, is critical to a successful experience.
How long do you have to volunteer? Volunteering doesn’t have to take over your life to be useful. Research shows that just two to three hours per week—that’s about 100 hours a year—can provide real benefits for both you personally and for your chosen cause or organization. The caveat here is to think of volunteerism as a commitment that must be fulfilled. Think of it as a personal contract and obligation, not something to be trifled with. After all, people will depend on you.
Over the years, I have done a lot of volunteer work. The common denominator is that more people sign up to volunteer than actually participate. For some, it begins and (unfortunately) ends as a selfish situation — in short, the fame or “glamour” of simply being listed as a volunteer, committee member, or board member. But, for others, the benefits of follow-up are actually a win-win. And they come from a dedication to meaningful participation. I don’t mean to be rude but, if you volunteer, please participate. If you don’t want to participate, don’t volunteer. The important thing is to volunteer only an amount of time that you are comfortable with. Volunteering should feel like a rewarding hobby, not some other task to check off your to-do list.
Where are the Volunteers?
Now that you have an idea of the time you are willing to commit to volunteering, the decision is made to do so Where for volunteers. There is no shortage of opportunities to do so. Here are some of the most visible:
- society service
- church ministry and outreach
- industry related
If you donate your valuable time, it is important that you enjoy it and reap the benefits of your activities. Signing up for something and only then discovering that there are “dealbreakers” is not a good place to be. Sometimes, an opportunity looks good on paper, but the reality is very different. You’ll end up avoiding what you later realize isn’t fun, and you won’t end up keeping your commitments. To ensure that your volunteer “position” is the right fit, I recommend doing your due diligence first.
In particular, I suggest the following:
- Asking question. You want to make sure that the experience is right for your skills, your goals, and the time you want to spend. Begin by asking yourself the following: What causes are important to you? Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team? Are you better behind the scenes, or do you prefer to take on a more visible role? Then, with those answers in mind, explore causes or organizations to see if they are a good fit.
- Know what to expect. You should feel comfortable with the organization and understand the time commitment. Consider starting small so you don’t push yourself too hard at first. Give yourself the flexibility to change focus, if necessary.
- If necessary, make changes. Don’t force yourself to put up with a bad fit or feel compelled to stay in a volunteer role you don’t like. Talk to the organization about changing your focus. Alternatively, find another organization that is more suitable.
- Enjoy yourself. The best volunteer experience benefits volunteers and beneficiary organizations. If you’re not enjoying yourself, ask yourself why. Is it the work you do or the people you work with? Or, do you feel uncomfortable just because the situation is new and unfamiliar? Pinpointing exactly what’s bothering you can help you decide how to proceed. If the fit is not proper and enjoyment is not attainable, then let yourself go. No one could gain in such a situation.
What do you want to achieve
Ask yourself if there is anything specific you would like to do or achieve as a volunteer. To find the right volunteer position for you, look for organizations or causes that match your personality, skills, and interests in scope.
Ultimately, volunteering is about doing something for the greater good… about doing something that is greater than yourself as an individual. President Kennedy’s inaugural address inspired us to see the importance of civic action and public service. historic words, “Don’t ask what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,” challenges every American to contribute in some way to the public good.
I’d add the “pay it forward” concept to the mix. The simplest way to define the expression “pay it forward” is this: When someone does something nice for you, instead of responding directly to it, you pass the good deed on to someone else.
We live in the richest country in the world. Our commercial AV and digital signage industry is (and has been) growing rapidly. We are well positioned to pay our fortunes.
I want to close with another allusion to President Kennedy, who paraphrased the famous biblical saying, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” Give some thought to volunteering, and then make that time commitment a good one. A common theme for those of us who volunteer and honor those time commitments is that we receive more than we provide. The greater good? You bet!