As National Volunteer Week is coming up I would like to pose the question: What would the world look like without volunteers?
What many fail to realize is that they often cross paths with volunteers, at least once if not several times a day. Volunteers help meet both basic and significant societal needs. Imagine a day with volunteer firefighters, tutors, vet assistants, pastors, coaches or hospital aides absent. And what would our parks, libraries, beaches or highways look like without volunteers giving their time to keep things organized, clean, and beautiful?
If you don’t think volunteers taking one day off would make a difference, you would certainly notice after a year, month or even week if they ceased to show up in the city, state, and nation! The 2011 Social Impact of Volunteering Report by the Points of Light Institute discusses how volunteering makes a remarkable social impact on society. Here are some of their important findings:
1. Volunteering bridges the gap between the people and different sectors like governments and businesses
There are so many nonprofit organizations thriving off of volunteer work that fills a need for people where the government or businesses may be unable to intervene. Many voluntary organizations either share information with local government and community leaders to lobby for specific programs or seek volunteers who genuinely care about the stakeholders involved. For example, as a caring volunteer you could provide services to senior citizens and individuals with disabilities with the nonprofit A Helping Hand. Volunteers fill the void that local and federal programs like social security are unable to fill by meeting basic needs like transportation to the grocery store for some of the community’s most vulnerable members.
2. Volunteering makes a significant contribution to the economy
Voluntary organizations are key players in the economy as employers and service providers, adding to the overall economic output of a country and reducing the burden on government spending. The sector also plays a key role in creating the conditions where the economy can flourish by investing in people through training, boosting skills and improving the employability of people on the margins of the labor market. It‘s estimated that volunteers contribute around $400 billion to the global economy annually. These estimates are produced using data on hours volunteered or the wage-based dollar value. One way you could help boost the skills of individuals needing to join the workforce would be by becoming an adult literacy tutor through the Triangle Literacy Council. As of 2012, volunteers of the United States produced services worth $113 billion to $161 billion annually as of 2012 (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, 2010)!
3. Volunteering helps build a more cohesive, safer, stronger community
It’s true; volunteering connects people to other people. Expanding network builds a web of solidarity that helps to reinforce the values and ideals that any given community may uphold. Volunteering for community events like the Brumley Forest Nature Preserve Grand Opening helps to build cohesion within the community by giving people the opportunity to come together. Volunteering helps to foster greater trust among citizens and developing norms of solidarity and reciprocity that are essential for stability.
4. Volunteering has positive effects on volunteers as individuals
Volunteering creates the sense of self worthiness and instills self esteem. It gives the very important feeling of being needed which is by itself a very rewarding experience for the helper. According to the Points of Light Institute report, a study of adults age 65 and older found that the positive effect of volunteering on physical and mental health is due to the personal sense of accomplishment that an individual gains from his or her volunteer activities (Herzog et al., 1998). Volunteering can provide a sense of purpose and those volunteers showed signs of greater life satisfaction and better physical health than non-volunteers. If more people in a community regularly volunteered at cool events like a springtime 5k with Girls on the Run of the Triangle it would be full of happy and healthy individuals fostering a cheerful environment for all!
5. Volunteering promotes people to be more active in civic engagement
The act of volunteering is in itself civic engagement and inspires people to do more. The study shows that people who are involved in their community are more concerned with their citizenship in that they are more likely to vote and even run for office! After all, great leaders are willing to serve. Volunteering as a board member for wonderful organizations like North Carolina’s American Lung Association is a great that you can become highly engaged in the community.
6. Volunteering raises the educational performance of youth, and contributes to environmental change
Tutoring services that you can participate in like the Salvation Army’s Super Study After School program helps to raise the educational performance of students across the country. And, there are so many park, highway and nature trail clean up groups that the impact can’t help but to be noticed! Locally, you could help to clean up the banks of the Northeast Creek.
Having conversations about the impact of volunteering and recognizing national days dedicated to acting on it is something that Activate Good values. As a do-gooder, you’ll add social value to communities, gain personal growth and provide a sense of worth to those on the receiving end.