Give a Little...Get a Lot: The Joy of Volunteering

by Mary Keen

We see people volunteering all the time. Whether they’re visiting the elderly, delivering meals, stuffing envelopes and more, it’s obvious that volunteering helps an individual, group or organization. But let’s face it—volunteering also helps volunteers themselves.

This prompts us to ask “Why do people volunteer?” In our discussions with many volunteers, the old adage, “Doing good is its own reward” was the operative theme. They told us that the main reason they volunteer is because it makes them feel good. Many volunteers spoke about giving back for all the blessings they’d been given in life. Some volunteer because they are still able to, and they want to help people less able. Others spoke of paying it forward—doing good things so that if they are in need, someone might help them. Other more insightful and philosophical reasons are: giving hope and inspiration to those in need; showing people that there are others who care about them; and showing that there can be something good that comes out of an unfortunate situation.

Why is volunteering important? We all know that volunteers’ contributions help organizations provide services that may not get done otherwise. But volunteers also can gain experience that they may not get elsewhere, such as building their confidence and self-esteem.



Fortunately, Americans volunteer in great numbers. According to a report by the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteers worked over eight billion hours in  2011. At an estimated $19 per hour average, that’s worth over $170 billion to the organizations where volunteers contributed their time and services. The U.S. Labor Department found that 27% of Americans volunteered last year, donating a median of 50 hours. In the European Union, the rate of volunteering is 20%.

New data from the Labor Department* shows exactly who is volunteering and where. Summarized in a recent U.S. News and World Report web article,** the statistics showed that women volunteer more than men, and the more educated the group, the more likely its members are to volunteer. Religious organizations remain the most popular venue for volunteers. Volunteers who are older (65-plus) volunteer the most, with a median of 90 hours per year. Volunteers 55 to 64 years old, are the next busiest volunteers with a median of 56 hours per year.

Yet this article considers these statistics to be misleading because the hours spent caring for extended family members, who we  would call “family caregivers,” are not captured, since caring for family is not considered volunteering by the Labor Department. The article contends that this care should fall under the rubric of volunteering, because it involves people giving of their time to others. The fact that caring for an elderly loved one is informally considered volunteering, means that tireless and devoted family caregivers deserve special kudos for their volunteer work.


Top 10 Reasons to Volunteer

  1. Make new friends
  2. Explore career and personal interests
  3. Earn great recommendations
  4. Develop marketable job skills
  5. Build your resume
  6. Enrich your education
  7. Uncover hidden skills and talents
  8. Increase your self-confidence
  9. Have fun
  10. Make a difference

From: Care2 Make a Difference


*U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Volunteering in the United States 2012” (released 2/22/13)
**Danielle Kurtzleben, “Data Shows Women, More Educated Doing Most Volunteering.”