You’ve probably experienced it before – the inner warmth that comes with helping someone else with no reward in mind. It may have been something simple, like helping someone across the road, or helping a mate move their couch that, by all physical rights, shouldn’t have been able to get through that door. It may have been something more extravagant, like travelling overseas and aiding those in less fortunate countries build accommodation or teaching classes. Whatever your good deed was, it helped someone else, and probably unknowingly, you’ve benefitted yourself.
What are the benefits of volunteering?
Keeps kids out of trouble
It’s cliché, but getting volunteer work does seem to show some signs of getting youth ‘off the streets’ and in less trouble. In ‘The Effects of Volunteering on the Volunteer’, authors John Wilson and Marc Musick outline some of the findings gathered from several data sources:
- Youth involved in volunteer programs were less likely to perform a select number of ‘problem behaviours’ in the same year
- Tenth-graders who did volunteer work were less likely to use drugs and skip school for a period of two years
- Youth participating in the Teen Outreach program were less likely to get pregnant, fail courses, or get suspended from school
- Youth participating in volunteer work were less likely to be arrested over a four-year period
- Number of hours volunteered had no effect – volunteer work that was enjoyable, challenging, and taught youth new skills produced the beneficial effects
There are two interesting things to note, however. Firstly, volunteer work has a different outcome to other kinds of social interactions. Participation in social clubs, for instance, had no effect on risky behaviour, while those involved in a team sport were more likely to get involved.
Secondly, there’s a caveat in this data to consider – these programs were mostly voluntary, so it might be that kids less likely to get involved in troublesome behaviour were more likely to volunteer. However, Wilson and Musick conclude that, while we don’t know why volunteer work has the effect it does, it does seem to inhibit anti-social behaviour to a modest degree.
It’s good for emotional, mental, and physical health
Behind the Instagram photos and Facebook posts, there’s a lot that goes into volunteering that indirectly benefits the person doing it - more often than not, volunteering involves physical work. Playing with kids, helping the elderly with their mobility, moving things around, all have the same knock-on benefits associated with doing physical labour. A study found that volunteers over the age of 50 were less likely to develop high blood pressure than their non-volunteer peers.
There’s also the social aspect to consider. Getting into the world and helping people establishes friendship, trust, and a sense of community. In turn, those who might be experiencing depression, stress, isolation, or a lack of value, can be actively involved in an activity which provides purpose and the chance to see the changes they make happen in real-time.
It benefits your career
Volunteer work looks good on a resume and can separate you from other candidates very quickly and easily. If you can find work in your field, this gives you an edge in getting experience and knowledge before you enter on a full-time basis. Work outside of your field shows dedication and the ability to adapt to a new environment. This isn’t limited to first-aid or how to perform day-to-day tasks; it can be as complex as working in new and foreign teams, communicating with people from a wide variety of professional and personal backgrounds, and building trust with the people you’re helping.
It has huge benefits for the elderly
Logically, it makes sense that the benefits of volunteering would have a greater impact on older people. It encourages sociability, exercise, and purpose; three elements of life that sadly tend to drop off after retirement.
Older people who undertake as little as 100 hours of volunteer work a year show a slower decline in health and functioning, slows the increase of depression and improves mortality rate, and can help buffer stress.
Other sources: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f005/65bd7c09a94eb162890aafaf9a227a0594c3.pdf
Australian volunteering statistics
It seems that Australia is a nation of helpers, if the latest statistics on Australian volunteering are anything to go by. From 2014, the ABS report states that:
- 31% of Australians participated in volunteer work
- Women were more likely to volunteer (34% of women compared to 29% of men)
- People 15-17 years old were the highest level of volunteers (42%), followed by 35-44 (39%) and 65-74 (35%)
- A combined 743 million hours of volunteer work went into the community
- The rate of volunteering was higher outside of capital cities (35% compared to 30%)
- Rates of volunteering increases with household income, with highest earners volunteering at a rate of 39% and the lowest at 23%.
- Highest involvement of volunteer work were for sport and physical recreation, while parenting, children and youth were at the lowest
How can I volunteer in Australia?
If you’re interested in volunteering, there are plenty of opportunities and organisations to look at. Check out:
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