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The Personal Health & Economic Benefits of Donating Your Time to a Cause

The need for donating your time to a cause is never more apparent than during the aftermath of tragedies like Hurricane Katrina. Thousands upon thousands of people across the United States have volunteered to help Katrina survivors, and the American Red Cross alone trained an additional 74,000 people in specialized disaster relief skills to help.

People who donate their time to causes do so out of caring, out of a desire to give and to lend a hand to someone in need. This is the primary motivation. However, people who make the selfless act of donating this precious resource (their time) do not go unrecognized.

No matter where you choose to volunteer, you're likely to get back even more than you give.

Learn Something New

According to the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (NSGVP) conducted in Canada:

  • 76 percent of volunteers said that after volunteering they gained interpersonal skills (they were better able to understand other people, motivate others and help them in dealing with difficult situations).

  • 66 percent said they developed better communication skills in areas like public speaking, writing and public relations.

  • 64 percent reported an increase in their knowledge about such issues as health, women, politics, criminal justice or the environment.

Volunteering clearly helps keep your brain active with all the new things you're exposed to, which is also a key way to ward of Alzheimer's disease as you age.

"Just keeping busy seems to tune the brain," says neuropsychologist Yaakov Stern of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In a seven-year study of 1,800 older adults, Stern found that the more "leisure pursuits" a person had, the lower their risk of developing Alzheimer's.

Volunteering puts a smile on everyone's face!

Improve Your Health

Allan Luks, author of "The Healing Power of Doing Good," describes many scientifically documented accounts of people gaining physical, mental and emotional benefits from doing good. For instance, holding an abandoned baby may help get rid of your backache, he says. Luks describes a "helper's high" that is similar to the high we feel after exercising. And, Luks maintains that volunteering provides:

  • A heightened sense of well-being

  • Relief from insomnia

  • A stronger immune system

  • Speedier recovery from surgery

Make New Friends

It's easy for kids to meet new friends; they're around new people all the time at school, sports events and other activities. But as you become an adult with responsibilities, routines and less leisure time, meeting new people becomes more difficult.

When you volunteer, however, you're around people all the time -- people who share a similar interest in a good cause. It's a great way to start a new friendship or keep an old one going strong by volunteering together.

Job Help

Many respondents to the NSGVP survey thought volunteering was a good step to gaining paid employment.

  • 54 percent of unemployed volunteers believed that volunteering would increase their chances of finding a job.

  • 12 percent of volunteers said their volunteer activities had helped them find employment.

Volunteering at an organization for which you'd like to work full-time is a great way to get your foot in the door, and provides you with a vast network of contacts. And volunteering in general looks impressive on any resume. What employer wouldn't want to hire someone who shows caring and generosity to their fellow man?

A survey of 200 UK businesses looked at volunteering from the employers perspective and found that it could make the difference between being hired or fired:

  • 73 percent of employers would hire someone with volunteer experience over someone with none.

  • 94 percent of employers believe volunteering adds to skill levels.

  • 58 percent say volunteer work experience can be even more valuable than paid work experience.

  • 94 percent of employees who volunteered to learn new skills got their first job, got a raise or were promoted.

Often, giving your time is the most precious gift you could give.

Build Confidence and Self-Esteem

Many volunteer positions require a large degree of responsibility and leadership. Leading others around you and fulfilling your duties can be challenging, and overcoming those challenges is a great way to boost your own level of confidence. Plus, when you see the appreciative looks from those you are there to help, your self-esteem will go through the roof.

Tax Deductions

Many costs associated with volunteering are tax deductible. For instance, you can deduct travel expenses, parking costs, convention attendance fees, etc. (as long as the organization you're volunteering for is not reimbursing you).

Get Academic Credit

Certain colleges and high schools allow students to gain academic credit for volunteer work. This type of "service learning" gives students a chance to help their communities while receiving hands-on learning experiences.

The More You Volunteer ...

According to the NSGVP survey, the top 25 percent of volunteers (those who contributed 177 hours or more per year) were more likely to say they experienced benefits than people who volunteered between one and 176 hours a year. In other words, the more you give, the more you'll gain!

Check out Charity Navigator for some top-rated charities in your area that may be looking for volunteers today.

Recommended Reading

How to Get the Greatest Tax Advantages by Donating Money to Charity

Spending Your Money on Doing Things vs. Owning Things Will Make You Happier


Giving and Volunteering

Time Bank UK

Virginia Volunteer

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