In recent years, more and more studies indicate the positive, holistic effect that volunteering has, not only on us as individuals, but on our sense of purpose, belonging, and community too. With an incredible impact on both psychological and physical health, being intrinsically motivated and doing what you love is shown to create a better quality of life for us, and our communities. Volunteering illuminates its importance in helping non-profits and communities not just survive, but thrive.

Volunteering lies at the heart of every non-profit, but its value reaches far beyond company operations.

For most non-profits, volunteer support offers crucial resources for every aspect of organizational functioning, from day-to-day operations to larger developmental strategy. Such relationships between organizations and their volunteers, which illustrate a positive, symbiotic partnership, demonstrate how great an impact individuals giving time and service can have on communities. Being motivated by what we love, giving of ourselves, and putting real work into bettering a community or a cause drastically affects our perspective on life and the ongoing issues throughout our world, however large or small.

When deciding to volunteer, choosing an organization, or cause, that you feel connected to is of great importance—it will impact the effect you have on a community in an even greater way, simply because you care about the issue that much more.

We experience a great variety of meaningful interactions when we commit ourselves to something we deeply care about.

In fact, the right volunteering experience can help reduce stress, find a greater and more specific sense of purpose, and connect individuals in a community. There can be a greater impact on people’s careers, job prospects, and lifestyle changes too. Just like grassroots community development, beginning with the individual in volunteering allows us to connect to our environment in a way that will have a more lasting impact.

Science agrees that the positive effects of volunteering make it worth every individual’s time, even if it’s only a few days a month or year. Recently Social Science and Medicine published an article stating: Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000, say the researchers. This statistic largely comes as a result of a few basic tenets regarding the effects of volunteering:

  • Volunteering connects your passions with other people in your community.
  • Volunteering positively impacts the body and the mind by boosting social confidence, interpersonal relationship skills, and the ability to cope with stress, anger, or anxiety through meaningful connection with others.
  • Volunteering can often advance careers and broaden lifestyle perspectives shown to positively increase people’s ability to handle change within their work environments.
  • Volunteering provides a sense of purpose, belonging, and contentment through being true to the things we love.

In addition to helping us develop a greater sense of belonging and purpose, actively volunteering within a community also lets us see how even small gestures make a huge difference to people throughout all kinds of communities. Often, people think they have to commit hours and hours or months of time volunteering in order to make a real impact. But, what many people do not realize is that small and simple but consistent gestures truly do make a meaningful impact on people’s lives in many communities. Sometimes it’s the simple act of showing up that can brighten someone’s day and keep hope alive in a struggling community. The act of making an issue known, being heard and seen, and showing people you care enough to even try to make a difference can mean the world for most people.

It can be hard in our daily lives to feel that we have the energy, capacity, or time to contribute to our community after everything we give of ourselves day-in and day-out. However, finding that small piece of time in our day, week, month, or year could mean a world of difference to another individual or family, while also illuminating that part of ourselves that is deeply loving and full of positive energy. When we connect to the good parts of ourselves and others in this often tumultuous world, it can give us the strength to get through the toughest of times. Not only will we help ease the suffering of others, we will begin to feel more connected to the world, and realize that we have the power to actively participate in its transformation.

By engaging in acts of service, giving unto our communities and unto us, and advancing the empowerment of others, we grow as individuals and as a society. These aspects of community, of being a part of a social society, are ever more importance in present times when we have the ability to be connected and aware of so many parts of the world, of so many people who face problems far greater than our own.

To be connected, to transform, and to grow—these are the goals of service. Improving lives, including our own, is the gift of volunteering.