Volunteering: A Two-Way Street

When we think of volunteering, it’s often in the context of not having enough time–time to find something we’d like to do and then to show up. It makes it seem like sharing your time is somehow a lop-sided deal. Though many organizations could not survive without volunteers, studies show that people who volunteer get much more in return than the two to three hours they may spend helping out. How is that possible? Like compounding interest, the benefits are cumulative and can last a lifetime.

Doing Good Makes Our Community Better

In 2017, 1 in 3 adults volunteered, or nearly 77.4 million people! These billions of hours kept organizations alive through fundraising, direct service to clients, and filling board and committee positions. According to research from The Corporation for National and Community Service, these same individuals also give more money to charity, care more about their community, and lend a helping hand to neighbors at higher rates. You can be one of these super-powered individuals too by sharing your time and talent for just a few hours a week—what experts say is the threshold for all the positive mind/body benefits of volunteering to take hold and make important connections with others that help decrease the isolation of our tech-driven society and make our communities stronger.

Why I Volunteer

I volunteer because sometimes giving your time, and a part of yourself, makes more of an impact than simply donating money. Funds certainly do make amazing things happen, but not without the people to apply them.

–Julie G., Corporate Compliance; Member, Pearl Insurance Charity Committee

Here’s to Your Health

You could probably spare a few bucks for a good cause, but sharing your time fosters a deeper connection that can lead to a myriad of health benefits. Studies show that volunteering can help reduce your blood pressure; lower rates of depression, anxiety, and anger; and generally lower mortality rates. It sounds like a miracle drug, doesn’t it? Well, the key to the volunteer equation is connection.

You may be stuffing envelopes, painting a room, or planning an event, but you’re usually doing it with other people. Your cohorts probably share similar interests with you and will often become friends and develop into an additional support system. This connection, along with the focus on something or someone other than yourself, can trigger many of the positive effects of volunteering.

With the express goal of helping someone else, it’s not hard to see that volunteering your time can help you feel more positive about yourself, foster a sense of pride, and provide a purpose, especially for older adults. These outcomes, in turn, can lead to a better outlook on life and better coping mechanisms if you do get down occasionally. Being active in the community, keeping your mind sharp, and having a structure and direction to your days can help keep you on a goal-oriented, forward-thinking path.

Need a Family-Friendly Activity?

As parents, you know you are setting an example for your kids with everything you say and do. What better way to set a positive one than volunteering as a family? Your kids get to experience the joy of helping others, maybe learn a new skill, and get a broader perspective on the world around them.

Developing Practical Skills

Beyond the mental and physical advantages of volunteering, there are many practical benefits as well. Want to learn a new skill? Looking to change careers? Volunteering can be a productive way to give it a try. You’re not expected to know everything as a volunteer. Experts will train you in the area you’re interested in, maybe that’s clearing trails in a national forest, and you get a chance to practice, ask questions, and add a new skill to your resume. Chances are, you’ll meet volunteers and staff who know about other areas you might want to learn about like recreation management or even bird watching. Volunteering gives you a no-pressure opportunity to see if these areas might be a good fit for a new career or hobby. And if it is, you have a host of people, and a wealth of experience, that will help you in your new endeavor.

Why I Volunteer

Volunteering has given me another purpose in life and helps me grow as a human being in so many ways. I have rediscovered my passion for the sport of wrestling and work with kids to help them develop as athletes and people during an important time in their lives.

–Steve F., Account Executive, Pearl Insurance; Volunteer, East Peoria High School Wrestling Team

Finding the Time

Volunteering doesn’t have to be a contract for life. Organizations know that more and more people have full-time jobs and are part of dual-income households, which means time is at a premium. Studies show that as little as two to three hours per week is enough to reap all those health benefits mentioned, but really it comes down to why you’re volunteering. The time commitment is the right amount for you, not anyone else, and will be a huge plus to an organization. Remember that volunteering is a two-way street so it should benefit the organization and you. It shouldn’t become a chore.

Many people feel volunteering gives them a much-needed break from their day-to-day routine and reenergizes their outlook. Creativity and motivation gets a boost that can lead to a new vision of both your personal and professional life. That’s why many companies are offering volunteer time off, or VTO, to their employees. This growing trend, nearly 1 in 4 companies are on board, highlights a company’s social responsibility and can boost its reputation among employees and customers alike. It’s also a competitive advantage with Millennials and Gen Xers who are focused on social justice issues and want to make a difference, not just a living. One study noted that 60% of millennials will stay with a job because it provides a sense of purpose. Here at Pearl, employees have between four and eight hours of VTO per year* that can be used individually or as part of a group activity. Employees have cared for animals at the TAPS No-Kill Animal Shelter and taught middle schoolers through Junior Achievement, to name just a few enriching activities. Human resource executives believe VTO can help develop soft skills in employees like leadership, adaptability, empathy, and collaboration. And it doesn’t hurt that employees who use VTO are four times more likely to talk about it with friends and family. It’s a win-win for everyone!

Why I Volunteer

I am just an animal lover by nature. They all have their own character, and volunteers really end up becoming their voice. It feels good to give them some playtime, lift their spirits, and tell potential adopters all about how great they are.

–Aimee T., Marketing, Pearl Insurance; Volunteer, Peoria Animal Welfare Shelter (PAWS)

Where Do I Start?

With most things in life, a little planning is helpful. Think about what you are interested in, what you might like to learn more about, or activities you used to like doing but maybe have lost track of. Decide what you’d like to get out of your volunteer experience, whether that’s meeting new people, learning a skill, or reducing stress and just having fun. Then think about what kinds of activities you want to do, for example, office work, physical activity like moving or painting, or direct client services like answering a hotline. Check out these additional tips for getting started.

Make sure to match your schedule and numbers of hours you can volunteer with your volunteer opportunity. Being anxious and feeling guilty are not what you want out of your experience. Be sure to try out a new volunteer position before making a commitment to ensure it meets both your, and the organization’s, needs.

But how do you find organizations that need help? You always hear that every organization wants help followed by the advice to “just call.” It’s not always that easy. Organizations have volunteer programs that range from very formal with applications and training to just “show up.” Here are some likely places to find volunteer opportunities:

  • Community theaters, museums, and monuments
  • Libraries or senior centers
  • Service organizations such as Lions Clubs or Rotary Clubs
  • Local animal shelters, rescue organizations, or wildlife centers
  • Youth organizations, sports teams, and after-school programs
  • Historical restorations, national parks, and conservation organizations
  • Places of worship such as churches or synagogues

You can also check online sites like Idealist, for searchable opportunities in your area. If your company offers VTO, check with your human resource department for a list of opportunities or group activities that are already scheduled. Talk with co-workers, friends, or neighbors and find out where they volunteer. They can be a good source of ideas and validation.

The bottom line, decide what cause you’re passionate about and want to lend your voice to, and go for it. We’ll all be better for it!

*Includes Pearl Insurance, Pearl Tech, and Pearl Insurance NY. Pearl Automotive employees do not have this benefit.

This article is for informational purposes only.

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