Volunteering Rewarded: Skills, Health, and Connection

By Christina Hanna, MPH, CHES • Published 10/10/2023

woman experiencing menopause symptoms finds a volunteer opportunity to help build homes in a non-profit organization

Want to do something that’s good for you, while doing good for others, too? Volunteer! On top of your busy life, finding time to volunteer might seem like an additional challenge. But volunteer work can be a rewarding experience that not only benefits your community, but also you as well. From gaining new skills to boosting overall health and building connections, volunteering can be a great way to help yourself, your community, and the causes you care about.

How to volunteer

Volunteering is something all of us can do. And there are many ways to volunteer. If you have a specific skillset, you can use that skillset to help a non-profit organization. Or you can volunteer for an organization that serves an area of interest for you.

What are your talents and passions? You can use them in many ways to give back to your community:

  • Give your time to an organization. You can often provide help onsite or online, depending on your availability.
  • Donate. Whether it’s a large or small amount, nonprofits need donations to keep running. You can also use events, like a birthday, to ask others to donate to an organization you care about. There are also non-monetary items you could donate, like clothes, shoes, toiletries, etc.
  • Advise. Do you have expertise in a certain area? Volunteer to serve on a board of directors or an advisory board.
  • Lead. Are you a natural leader? Look for roles to lead in local organizations. Or build a local chapter of a nonprofit.

If you’re new to volunteering, it can help to keep these points in mind:

  • Pick a cause that you believe in and feel passionate about.
  • Choose a volunteer opportunity that fits with your schedule and your skills.
  • Don’t try to do too much or you may end up feeling more stressed instead of less!
  • Be the best volunteer you can be. Show up once you’ve committed to an activity. Be professional, courteous, and cooperative.
woman in early menopause stage volunteers by handing out donations and gives back to her community

What are the potential benefits of volunteering?

Gain new skills

One benefit of volunteering is the ability to learn new skills. You may find yourself in a new environment that demands a range of abilities. Often the event or organization leadership can help you get started and teach you the basics. Whether it's speaking in front of a large group, fundraising for a charity event, chopping vegetables to feed a large group, or assisting in a community garden, each volunteer opportunity presents its own opportunities for growth, pushing you to step out of your comfort zone and try things you’ve never done before.

Improve your health

Beyond gaining new skills and furthering the cause of the organization, there can be health benefits of volunteering. People who volunteer often report a heightened sense of purpose and well-being (which benefits your mental and emotional wellbeing). This sense of purpose often comes from knowing you’ve made a meaningful impact on the lives of others. At points in our lives, many of us struggle with find meaning – searching for that elusive 'why' that helps them get up and get going every day. Engaging in activities that directly impact the lives of others provides a tangible sense of accomplishment and fulfillment and can be a great source of confidence and motivation.

Studies have also shown that donating your time may help relieve stress and make you happier. When you help others, your brain produces dopamine that may help boost your mood.

The health benefits don't stop there. Volunteering can also affect your physical health. The reduced stress levels attributed to a sense of purpose and social engagement translate into healthier hearts and lowered blood pressure.

You can build and strengthen relationships

While you may begin volunteering as a solo expedition or to meet a personal goal, it can be a great way to forge connections and strengthen relationships. Spending time together contributing to a cause that all the volunteers care about can help strengthen existing relationships and help build new ones. 

If you’re shy, or just stuck in your routine, volunteering can also help you connect with new people in an easy atmosphere that is set up for strangers to come together around a shared cause. In addition, if you work from home, volunteering can be a great way to get out of the house and be around other people (I know that has definitely been the case for me!). In a world that sometimes feels increasingly disconnected, volunteering serves as a powerful antidote to isolation.

One of our Ambassadors, Christina, found connection with others after deciding to volunteer for her local cat shelter.

When I started working from home, I knew that I could not do this forever without having some type of people contact because I'm a people person.... I started volunteering for the cat shelter.

This was at a difficult time for her as her perimenopause symptoms (especially anxious feeling and low mood) were really starting to affect her daily life and she was struggling to figure out what was going on with her body. But she was able to use her professional skills to help them raise money, take a leadership role, and make a difference in her community. And the volunteering helped her find an outlet to help cope with what was going on: “In a way it probably saved my life, in a crazy way, because it kept me busy.” 

woman with perimenopause symptoms cleans up garbage in an area and gains the benefits of volunteering

Just like you, volunteering gets better as you age 

When we’re younger, there are often easy volunteer opportunities through school or community groups. As we get older, we may have to search out those opportunities on our own. But for every interest you have, there’s a likely a way to volunteer related to that. Volunteering is definitely something that you’re never “too old for”. I (Christina) distinctly remember one volunteer shift at the Detroit Zoo where our volunteer group was made up of me (in my late-30's) and the 3 other volunteers were women in their 80s.

While research varies on the optimal number of hours or number of organizations to volunteer with, multiple studies show significant benefits of volunteering for adults over 50. These benefits can include:

  • Improving physical and mental health. One study showed adults aged 60 and over who volunteer report better physical and mental well-being. Another showed adults over age 65 experienced fewer depressive symptoms than non-volunteers. Research also shows that participating in volunteering programs can improve the cognitive function of older individuals, providing mental stimulation, and preventing cognitive decline. When you help others, it can provide a sense of meaning and appreciation, which can also help reduce stress.
  • Providing a sense of purpose. When volunteer work helps an organization run their day-to-day activities, volunteers often feel that what they’re doing makes a difference. Older adults can also experience increases in life satisfaction and self-esteem.
  • Helping create and build relationships. When you volunteer for an organization that’s important to you, you can meet others who share the same interests. When you participate in a shared activity, you can help build and strengthen relationships. Volunteering also offers older adults an avenue to stay socially connected, combating isolation and loneliness that can sometimes accompany aging. So, starting now could be one way of helping you age a little healthier.

The transformative power of volunteerism can extend well beyond the act of service itself. Volunteers learn new skills, experience growth, and enjoy a range of health benefits. The connections they make are deep and enduring, and the sense of purpose they find reverberates through every facet of their lives. As we reflect on the impact of volunteering, it becomes evident that this selfless act is not only a personal journey but a collective force for positive change. So, step out, lend a hand, and discover the remarkable journey that volunteering offers.

Last Updated 2/21/2024

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