The Unexpected Benefits of Volunteering
Volunteers are the lifeblood of non-profit organisations. Each year, over 10,000 people donate their time to the NZBCF, whether it’s out on the streets, on the road, or in our office.
Without volunteers the NZBCF, and many other charities, wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective.
And it’s not glamorous work. Volunteers staple reports, prepare gift packs, stuff envelopes and collect donations. It’s amazing that so many people shuffle their schedules, make the trip in to town, and give up their free time to support a cause they believe in.
There’s no doubt that these volunteers enjoy themselves. Doing good, after all, makes people feel good. But that’s not the only benefit of volunteering. Researchers have found that giving up your time for a cause could actually help you live longer.
In the last few years, many studies have been published on the health benefits of volunteering. Most come to a similar conclusion - that volunteering decreases your risk of early mortality by around 20%.
Eric Kim, an American researcher, tracked older adults in the USA who joined a program tutoring children. During their time volunteering these adults saw improvements in stamina and memory, as well as lower levels of depression – some of which, he thinks, is because they've found a greater sense of purpose.
In another study, he saw that adults who volunteer are more like to get flu shots, mammograms, Pap smears and prostate exams. Caring for others, he concluded, makes us more likely to care for ourselves.
Kim and his colleagues came up with an obvious initial explanation: of course people who volunteer are healthier. Unhealthy people are less likely to go out of their way to do extra work. So they controlled for things like baseline health, financial situation, age, ethnicity and social integration, and the results came out the same.
Although the exact reasons why volunteering improves health aren’t known yet, researchers have made some educated guesses. Volunteering provides a reason for social contact, which stops people from feeling lonely. It gives people a reason to feel self-confident, valued, and reminds them they have a strong purpose in life.
Those are just the personal benefits. Every volunteer, in every charity, all across the country, gives up their time to help others in some way. For us, all of our volunteers are contributing to our overall mission: to stop women developing and dying from breast cancer.
It’s National Volunteer Week, so now’s a great time to sign up to volunteer, even if you never have before. Check out the volunteer opportunities at the NZBCF.