How can helping others help you?

This post is from staff writer Suba Iyer.

In personal finance blogs, we explore a lot of ways to propel our career to the next level, develop new skills, have fun while being frugal, etc. One of the ways that is usually ignored but can accomplish all of these and more is by volunteering. Yes, volunteering is beneficial for your soul, and it is something you should be doing without expecting anything in return. But just because we don’t expect anything in return doesn’t mean it doesn’t give anything in return, it does.

Many volunteers don’t think or talk about what they are getting out of volunteering; maybe because it feels too self-centered, and volunteering is supposed to be selfless. I personally believe that it is OK to stop and think about what it is doing for you. Why? Because it will make you do a better job. When you figure out how much you get out of helping others, you will have more energy, be happier and will want to help more.

So, what is in it for you?

(I’d like to emphasize that in this post, I am talking about volunteering for a non-profit organization; not working for a for-profit corporation for free.)

Professional benefits

Volunteering is an excellent way to take your career to the next level.

  • Exploring new career paths: How many of us feel we would have been better off by doing “x” instead of the career path we are currently in? By the time this thought hits us, we are far too deep into our current career and it feels impossible to start a new career from scratch. We can’t go back to school when we have family responsibilities. What if we spend a lot of money only to find out it is not all milk and honey? Solution: Volunteer in the profession you are interested in. If you are a biology major who wants to become a doctor, volunteer at a hospital and talk to the doctors. It will save you a LOT of money in medical school tuition.
  • Develop new skills: I am a software engineer by training. Through my volunteering I am getting a food worker’s permit, CPR training, knowing how the foster care system works and how to handle insurance claims. We have also talked about creating a podcast for the charity which is a great addition to my skill set and will directly help with my career. You can learn anything from home improvement skills to leadership skills.
  • Network: You might not meet a lot of people in your exact profession, but you never know where your next opportunity will come from. You might meet your next employer or find a fantastic investment opportunity.
  • Stand apart in a competitive job market: When there are two equally qualified people — one with volunteering experience and the other with none, who do you think will be preferred? If you are unemployed, while looking for jobs, volunteering is an excellent way to fill the gap in your resume and gives a great positive impression about you to your prospective employer.

According to the Corporation for National and Community service, volunteers have higher odds of ­finding employment in today’s job market.

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Personal benefits

Personal growth: Life can get monotonous after a while, the same routine, job and activities. Volunteering can shake up your routine and give new meaning to your life. You will be learning a variety of new skills and will keep your life interesting. You can even volunteer as a family to give new meaning to family time.

Meet like-minded people: If you are new to the community and want to make friends, there is no better way than to volunteer for a cause that you are passionate about.

Feel happy about making an impact: Yes, volunteering is about helping others, but there is no denying that it will make us feel happy about ourselves. We feel “fuller” when we are making a positive impact in someone’s life. It makes us happier.

Improve your social skills: I used to be part of the Toastmasters club where one of the exercises is to start a conversation with a stranger and keep it going (and interesting) for 5 minutes. I paid to be part of the club, but as part of volunteering, you might be helping strangers deal with difficult issues, attend fundraisers or even cold call asking for a donation. Nothing put me at ease with calling a stranger faster than making 200 phone calls a day asking for a donation.

Have fun: Whether you are taking care of kids, building a house or doing a charity walk, you can always have fun doing something different than your normal routine.

Health benefits

The Corporation of National and Community Service (CNCS) did a study on “The Health Benefits of Volunteering”. There are several benefits listed in their findings, including — Greater life satisfaction, combating depression, staying physically healthier and living longer.

Financial benefits

Yes, there are some tangible, financial benefits to volunteering depending on where you serve.

  • Free (or discounted) admission: If your passion is arts/history and you volunteer for at a zoo, theater or a museum, it is not uncommon for volunteers to get free or discounted admission.
  • Access to benefits: I know volunteers at my local hospital get free access to the gym in the hospital. They are also eligible to be part of the hospital’s credit union. In San Diego, where I used to live, my hospital gave its volunteers free vaccinations and an annual health checkup. In some places, you can get access to business discounts that the organization’s employees get.
  • Gratitude: Personal finance is more about mind than money. We could have all the money in the world, yet feel poor. Volunteering gives that sense of satisfaction and gratitude that cannot be attained easily otherwise. We feel rich when we put a smile on someone’s face. We feel fuller when we know we have made a difference in at least one person’s life. No amount of money in the bank can equal this.

Getting benefits should not be the primary motivation to start volunteering, but who says we can’t do good for others and have some fun ourselves? We will have a much richer and more enjoyable experience if we take some time to identify our life’s goals, our passions and interests and find a volunteer position that aligns with our values and our goals.

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