We sometimes hear about people doing meaningful work for charitable causes. Obviously, those charities or the community at large benefit by the efforts made by volunteers. There are also benefits for people who have invested their talents and efforts to make a difference in the world.
On the surface, many volunteers report feeling such positive emotions connected with a sense of accomplishment, pride, and satisfaction. Whether a person volunteers to spend time with the elderly or helps clean and maintain wildlife habitat, benefits go both ways.
People who aim to make a difference can help to improve lives of those in need, authentically connect to others, strengthen communities, help solve problems, and transform their own lives. If you’ve ever volunteered to do a favor for someone, you know the feeling of “warm fuzzies” that are often the reward for helping out.
The Corporation for National and Community Service has found that people who volunteer for worthy causes experience lower rates of depression, retain greater functional ability, and even have lower mortality rates than people who do not volunteer.
When comparing the age groups of people who freely give their time, the older age groups are the ones who receive the greatest benefits. Volunteering automatically provides people with more social activity and sense of purpose at a time when they need to refocus from career to retirement. Many of the studies have also indicated that people who devote more time to helping activities are more likely to show positive health outcomes.
While we can understand how our own physical and emotional lives can be enhanced by volunteering, we need to be careful and mindful about how the recipients of our efforts are affected. We must be careful not to be zealous in our own motivations. Sometimes well-meaning people try to share goodwill where it is not necessary or is unwelcome. We might have the opinion that certain people need our help, but in reality, they actually do not.
The most effective way to make a difference is to work with established, successful organizations. There are many community oriented groups who already have the expertise to serve but can always use extra hands to actually do the work.
If you have the skills and desire to help in a meaningful way, you can investigate opportunities in neighborhood watch programs, disaster relief efforts, intergenerational organizations, animal welfare charities, environmental groups, and the like.
When you locate a group that aligns with your interests and skills, approach the organization and request an interview. Plan for this in much the same way you would when interviewing for a job in business. Come prepared with information about your qualifications, background, hobbies, and interests. This is also the time to ask the group’s representative about their aims and motivation. Will the group be a good long-term match for you? Don’t forget to align the activities with your personal schedule.
That said, volunteering can provide the opportunity to learn new skills and personal development. This is especially true if the organization provides training and development programs for their volunteers.
At the core, a person can more effectively help out by volunteering to do what is most meaningful and, at the same time, is actually needed. Carefully think over the impact such service will have on you and the commitment necessary. If the organization looks like a good match, go ahead and make a difference.