At Step Together, we believe in the power of voluntary work to transform lives. Our projects focus not on the hugely valuable work that is done by volunteers in their communities, but on the impact volunteering has on the individual who volunteers.
National figures published in 2015 show that 42% of us have formally volunteered once in the previous 12 months, and 27% once a month over that period. That amounts to nearly 22 million people throughout Britain, improving our communities, supporting others, and together making a phenomenal contribution to the country’s economy.
But why do we do it? For many, it will be driven by the needs of those around them, or maybe the feel-good factor of doing things for others. But there is also a wealth of evidence showing the positive impacts that volunteering has on the individual volunteer. Here are seven reasons to find a volunteering experience which suits your needs:
1. Gaining employability skills
The most obvious advantage is the opportunity to learn new occupational skills and get new experiences which will help our employability. However, a volunteering role does not have to be related to our chosen career path – volunteering has been shown to help the development of critical workplace skills, including communication, leadership, delegation and problem solving. In a recent study in the UK, 73% of employers said they regard volunteering favourably as a qualification on a potential employee’s CV.
2. Improving overall health
Volunteering England’s 2008 study on volunteering and health concluded that there was a clear link between volunteering and good health for volunteers. It concluded that engaging in volunteering can increase longevity, improve mental health, keep people fitter, and enable them to cope better with illness when it occurs.
3. Reducing stress
Many studies have also shown that volunteering reduces the incidence of depression and stress. 78% of people surveyed in the US who had volunteered in the previous 12 months said that volunteering had improved their mood and lowered their stress levels.
4. Supporting personal development
Volunteering can have benefits for people’s personal development. Building self-esteem and confidence are frequently referred to, as are experiencing a sense of achievement and personal satisfaction from being a part of something meaningful, helping others, and seeing the positive results of the work carried out. Several published studies have shown that youth who participate in volunteer activities tend to engage less in risk-taking behaviours such as smoking, drinking alcohol and using illicit drugs.
5. Increasing happiness
Researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of adults. They found the more people volunteered, the happier they were.
6. Making friends and expanding networks
Volunteering can provide an opportunity to make friends with people from different backgrounds and cultures and help to build understanding and community cohesion. In these days of social media, many people find volunteering is a great way to interact with people in the real world, and to get away from the computer screen.
7. Strengthening communities
By bringing people together from different parts of the community, volunteering has been shown to bring about a greater awareness in people of the issues faced by their community or society more generally, and develop a greater sense of belonging. Volunteers report that volunteering enriches their sense of purpose in life, and helps them learn valuable things about the world and about themselves.
Need we say more? Go to our volunteering page to learn more about how you can get involved in volunteering, and change your life whilst helping others.
Our definition of volunteering
As a charity focused on the power of volunteering, it is important for us to differentiate between volunteering and work experience. At Step Together, we adhere to the definition of volunteering used by National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO):
“Activity which involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives. Central to this definition is the fact that volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual.”
We further maintain that there must be a cause to volunteering and it should be for a charity or not-for-profit organisation. Examples of the difference between volunteering and work experience are:
- Working for a business (chemist, dentist, restaurant etc) is classified by Step Together Volunteering as work experience and not volunteering.
- Helping younger pupils at your school or college is volunteering.
- Volunteering in a religious context should be for the good of the community and not, in itself, limited only to proselytising or promoting the religious cause.