Benefits of Volunteering: 9 Ways Helping Others Also Helps You
By Brianna Flavin on 03/30/2020
The most obvious benefit of volunteering is the good it gives back to communities, countries and the world at large. You love volunteering—or at least the idea of volunteering, if we’re being completely honest—but as priorities build up, it can be easy to put unpaid volunteer work further and further down your list of priorities.
It’s true, tutoring kids, assisting people who are homeless, or engaging in any of the thousands of activities that give back to your community might not fill your wallet. But there are more benefits of volunteering than most people realize. And many of them relate directly to your career prospects. Sound interesting? Read on to see what frequent volunteers and hiring managers have to say about the benefits of volunteering.
9 Potential benefits of volunteering you should know about
Looking for volunteer work motivation? The benefits below just might get you ready to roll your sleeves up.
1. You can gain relevant work experience
The specific skills you could learn from volunteering are wide and varied. If you volunteer with an organization in your career field, you can even gain relevant work experience and technical skills with a somewhat lower threshold of entry.
“Volunteering could actually help you to advance your career much faster,” says Nick Bryant, counselor at Houston Case Managers. “It’s a much easier decision for a big company to bring you on as a volunteer than a full-time employee.”
Though your motivation for volunteering may not be your career trajectory, many of our experts encouraged students and new professionals to seek volunteer opportunities in their prospective career field. If employers want to see work experience on a resume, volunteering can absolutely fit the bill.
“Most recent college graduates lack professional work experience, and volunteer experience is the next thing that really matters to a recruiter,” says Rhys Williams, managing director at Sigma Recruitment. Williams says relevant career skills are qualities employers want—whether they came from paid or unpaid experience.
“One of the main benefits of volunteering is that you get work experience that often exceeds what you would get in an entry-level work position,” says Michael Alexis, director of marketing at The Great Guac Off. “When I started learning web development, friends involved with nonprofits started asking for me to volunteer and create websites for their organizations.” This skill-developing experience led to work samples Alexis included in his portfolio.
2. You can strategically bolster your resume
Making up for work experience is awesome, but there are other ways volunteer work can help your resume stand out.
“I like to see volunteer experience on a resume, especially if the volunteer experience allowed the candidate to exhibit skills that may be lacking in other parts of the resume,” says Brian Cairns, CEO of Pro Strategix Consulting. “Most applicants toss volunteer experience at the end of their resume almost like an afterthought. I encourage applicants to add it where it makes the most sense.”
Cairns points out that while volunteering often works in a candidate’s favor—you should still be aware of the potential pitfalls. “Volunteer experience can communicate different political, religious or other information that an interviewer cannot ask you about during an interview, but if it’s on your resume, you are providing this information.”
Cairns says that discrimination based on those factors is illegal, but it would be very hard to prove if your application just never made it past the first read. Consider this, and include your volunteer work strategically when it will communicate what you want about yourself and your skills.
“Because so few students are doing volunteer work, those who do—and include it in their resume—effectively set themselves apart in a really big way,” Williams says.
3. You’ll refine valuable soft skills
Even if your volunteering seems unrelated to your career ambitions, most volunteering arrangements can help you develop an array of soft skills that are transferable to huge variety of careers.
The ability to solve problems creatively with minimal guidance, structure or resources is a special thing indeed. “Budgets are tight at nonprofit organizations,” says Monika Adarsh, senior product marketing manager at Beaconstac. “Coming up with a strategy that compensates for the budget needs a problem-solving attitude.”
“Volunteering requires time-management skills, as well as patience and creativity in getting things done when resources are scarce or non-existent,” says Susanne Tedrick, cloud platform technical specialist at IBM.
It’s hard to quantify the skill group that covers interpersonal interactions, networking, customer service and teamwork. But volunteering in a situation where you work with people alerts potential employers that you’ve likely developed these abilities.
“Volunteer experience tells me that the candidate is committed, empathetic and can be a good citizen in the workplace,” Williams says. “Volunteering also imparts important soft skills including communication, leadership and collaborative skills, all of which are highly sought-after.”
Since volunteering is, well, voluntary, employers and recruiters tend to see it as a sign that the candidate is motivated and takes initiative. Without the compensation of wages, volunteering indicates personal motivation to contribute, according to Adarsh. “I like seeing it on a resume because it reflects on the entrepreneurial spirit of the individual and a bunch of other aspects that sets them apart from the rest.”
4. Your health could improve
There are a few aspects of volunteering that can positively influence your health. “Helping someone without expecting monetary gain is a beautiful experience,” says Shashank Shalabh, chief marketing officer at Omni Digital. “According to a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University, people who volunteer on a regular basis are less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers,” Shalabh says.1 “Giving, itself, is a wonderful feeling.”
And many volunteer positions also involve physical activity, Shalabh adds, which is another overall health perk.
On top the physical health element, many bodies of research support a positive link between volunteering and mental health. Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D., writes that the prosocial and caregiving behavior of many volunteer situations can help people cope with depression, loneliness and even the loss of a loved one.
5. You’ll get closer to the heart of the industry
Volunteering can put you in touch with what matters in an industry in a hurry. If your work involves any level of strategy, problem solving or big picture thinking—then volunteering can be the ‘boots on the ground’ experience that gives you a closer look.
Bryant volunteers for several organizations that provide basic needs. “While volunteering I'm able to interact with clients and fulfill the initial basic need and also learn more about other problems they are experiencing.” Bryant explains that his role in public health often involves the same kinds of issues as his volunteering work. If he can find a solution, he can immediately apply it to his profession as well.
“Volunteering allows you to see around corners and spot problems in your industry sometimes before your colleagues are even aware that there is an issue,” Bryant says.
6. You’ll expand your perspective
The people we meet often influence us in powerful ways. But it’s easy to get into circles of people who all share your personal perspective, more or less. Volunteering can really change this, according to Debbie Chan, electrical lead specialist at Milton Electric. “When you volunteer anywhere, whether abroad or locally, you work with different age groups, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.”
“It’s impacted my professional life in that I've learned to tailor my communication more effectively according to each patient. In my three eye care mission trips, I've learned that the average person does not care about the technical ‘mumbo-jumbo’ of their eye condition, but rather how it would impact their lives.”
“Perspective and empathy will bring you far,” Chan says. “Whether it be in your personal life or future business relationships.”
7. You’ll gain a network
“Aside from doing good for others, volunteering is a great way to expand your overall network of mentors, peers and others,” Tedrick says. “Having a great and diverse network that you can call on for career advice or future job or project opportunities can make all the difference in your career.”
“Volunteers like to help other volunteers,” says Jennifer Terando, R.N., Esq. “People I have volunteered with offer me jobs, send me clients and introduce me to other professionals in my field. I can definitely say I have earned more money as a result of volunteering.”
On top of the useful network connections, Terando emphasizes that volunteering can put you in the path of inspiration and friendship. “I’ve found people who volunteer to be accomplished and creative individuals who motivate me. I’ve made such great friends along the way.”
8. You’ll discover if you like the work
Volunteering usually only costs time. When it comes to choosing a field or a career—that is actually a very low price to pay to find out if you like the work. “It’s a low-risk way of learning whether the career you are pursuing is actually for you or not,” Bryant says. He explains that going through your education without getting any real experience in a career risks an eventual revelation that you don’t like the career or the industry you’ve chosen.
“Volunteering allows you to bypass all those things and get right to the work,” Bryant says. “Despite what you think you want, you'll never know until you actually do it. Volunteer as soon as possible to ensure that you are pursuing a career you will enjoy.”
9. You’ll help someone
For most volunteers, this is probably the main reason they do what they do. They believe in their work, they believe in helping people, and they are passionate about their mission or vision.
“The greatest part about being human is that we can consciously help others,” Shalabh says. “Every little step that you take towards helping others counts. I understand that with academics, you may not have much time to volunteer, but even spending a few hours on a weekend is something.”
Do the benefits of volunteering justify the time?
For many, the main barrier to volunteering is having enough time. Giving from that resource can feel difficult—so is it worth it to spend time volunteering? Our experts responded with a resounding “Yes!” You never know what your specific experience will bring, but chances are good that you will find your volunteer time to be beneficial and enriching—even as you enrich someone or something else.
“The beauty of volunteering is its broad scope and flexibility,” Chan says, adding that countless opportunities and time frames and locations are out there if you’re willing to look.
Now you can see some of the amazing reasons to sign up with a cause, a project or an organization you are passionate about. And you can see why employers would be interested in that experience as well. Contrary to popular belief, there are many aspects of life experience that can help your resume stand out. Learn more in our article, “8 Leadership Experiences You Didn't Know You Already Have."
1Sneed, R. S., & Cohen, S. A prospective study of volunteerism and hypertension risk in older adults. Psychology and Aging. [accessed March, 2020] https://doi.org/10.1037/a0032718