Volunteering: What’s In It for Me?

4-14-2016 2-14-48 PM

The definition of volunteering is to do something willingly and without pay. However, we all have many demands on our time.  Volunteering may not always be feasible given your other commitments, but volunteering is still a wonderful use of time.  Aside from the altruistic reasons to volunteer, I would like to share a few ways that you benefit by giving your time and talents.

Research has consistently found numerous health-related benefits for those who volunteer.  Specifically:

  • 29 percent of people with a chronic illness reported that volunteering helps them cope;
  • 68 percent of those who volunteer agree that volunteering helps them lead healthier lives; and
  • 50 percent said that volunteering has deepened their sense of purpose in life.

Volunteering also lowers rates of depression, increases functional ability, and increases life satisfaction. In fact, studies have found that volunteers even live longer!

Another benefit for volunteering is as an opportunity to learn something new.  There are so many different ways to volunteer, and you can easily learn or develop a talent that you do not use in your daily work.  Volunteers do what is needed to meet the needs of a larger goal, so it is not unusual to have an engineer serving in a soup kitchen, an IT professional coaching a youth soccer team, or a manager taking his therapy dog to visit a nursing home.

Volunteering also allows you the chance to explore new career options.  For example, if you think you would like to work in accounting, then volunteering to be the treasurer of your child’s parent association is one way to gain exposure to this new career.  By volunteering, you are also meeting new and networking with people from all professional backgrounds, some of whom you may wish to meet with privately to talk about your career goals.  That government accountant with whom you planted a garden last Saturday morning will likely be happy to meet with you one-on-one, and you can ask her about how she landed a job with the government contractor you admire.

Contacts you meet through volunteering could become wonderful additions to your professional network.  The importance of networking in a job search cannot be understated.  According to U.S. News & World Report, 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking..  In a recent interview on National Public Radio, it was reported that as many as 80 percent of all jobs are not published publicly, so the only way to access this “hidden job market” is to network.

Therefore, how do you use volunteering as an opportunity to increase your network?  First of all, you have to approach your volunteer experience with the right mindset:

  • Be prepared to talk to the other volunteers and staff.
  • Bring your business cards.
  • Listen to your fellow volunteers and ask them about their interests.
  • Talk about your professional background and your career goals.

If you meet someone with whom you would like to meet at a later time, share your contact information and set up a time to meet prior to leaving your volunteer site.  This will help to ensure that the follow-up meeting will actually take place.

Not only is volunteering important for expanding your network, it also helps you with your job search.  A 10-year study of unemployed people found that those who volunteered had a 27 percent greater chance of finding a job compared to those who did not volunteer.  Similarly, unemployed people who volunteered between 20 and 99 hours were 7 percent more likely to find a job one year later.  According to LinkedIn, 20 percent of hiring managers in the U.S. have hired candidates based on their volunteer experience.  If you are changing careers, volunteering is a great way to increase the “Experience” section on your resume.

If you are looking for ways to volunteer, you do not need to look any further than UMUC.  No matter where you live, you can easily volunteer to serve as a Career Mentor by joining the UMUC Mentor Program.  Becoming a UMUC mentor allows you to inspire, encourage, and support current UMUC students.  Another quick and easy way to help UMUC students and alumni is to post job and internship opportunities with your organization.  Career Quest is UMUC’s online job board that is available for all UMUC students and alumni.  Creating a profile is free and using this tool provides you access to thousands of UMUC professionals in a variety of career fields and at all career levels.  Considering UMUC alumni are all over the world, this is a great way to give back to your alma mater.   Finally, there are numerous events that occur year round which require alumni support.  To find out more about these events and other volunteer opportunities, check out the UMUC Alumni website.

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get.  We make a life by what we give.”  As research has repeatedly shown, volunteering is a rare opportunity where truly everyone wins: the population you are serving has its needs addressed; the organization saves on overhead and other staffing-related expenses; and the volunteer (among lots of other benefits) can feel good knowing that he/she made a difference.

For more information on volunteering, please click here to view the previously recorded webinar, Volunteering, What’s in it For Me?

Kristin Schrader is the assistant director of InternPlus at University of Maryland University College.  She has a background in human resources and has worked in career services at four universities.  Some of her favorite ways to volunteer include mentoring current college students, donating blood, and teaching professional development courses.  She is extremely passionate about helping others obtain their professional goals.