The endless benefits of volunteering

Updated Oct 20, 2020
Why volunteer? Because the benefits of volunteering are almost endless. Just ask someone who does it. You’ll be amazed at the ways a person can grow in just a few hours a month.

Many people say that volunteering has changed them in ways they never expected. They’ve made new friends. Learned new skills. Expanded their hearts, minds and souls. Perhaps even landed a job. The benefits are as varied as the volunteers.

In this article, you’ll learn why volunteering can be good for you. You’ll understand more about people’s reasons for volunteering. And you’ll consider new ways to gain volunteer experience.

This page could mark the start of your volunteer journey. You won’t get paid for reading it – but you may be a different person by the end!
 
  1. What are the benefits of volunteering?
  2. Who volunteers?
  3. How can volunteer experience help my career?
  4. What are the benefits of volunteering for Canada’s economy?
  5. How can new Canadians benefit by volunteering?
  6. Why volunteer for World Vision Canada?
  7. How can I volunteer during the COVID-19 outbreak?
 

1) What are the benefits of volunteering?

A woman in a grey hoodie smiles toward the camera. She’s at a table with other volunteers. They all have papers in front of them.Volunteering at a World Vision event is a great way to help improve life for children in developing countries. At the same time, you’ll make friends and connections in your own community. Photo: Stephen Woo

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Why volunteer? The benefits are as boundless as the opportunities. You can get physically stronger, make new friends and connections. And you can thrive emotionally, too. Giving back can reduce stress and increase joy.

Just ask a volunteer why they do it – but be prepared to listen for awhile!

The physical health benefits of volunteering

Three men in orange hats, black coats and waterproof-looking pants have their arms around one another. They smile toward the camera.

Volunteers at the “Courage Polar Bear Dip” stand in the icy cold waters of Lake Ontario on January 1st, making sure the dippers are safe. Funds raised support World Vision’s clean water projects. Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Miller

“There is no better exercise for your heart than reaching down and helping to lift someone up.” – Bernard Meltzer

When it comes to physical health, the benefits of volunteering are many. Here are just a few:

  • Physical exercise is a natural part of many volunteer opportunities. Consider planting trees, raising funds by walking or running, or coaching a kids’ soccer team.
  • Reducing stress, a benefit of volunteerism, may well also lower your blood pressure, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Losing weight can be a positive side-effect of volunteering, especially for young people, indicates a study done in Canada .
  • Reversing a sedentary lifestyle is always good for health. Visiting a senior or packing goods at a food bank gets you up off the couch.

Many volunteers invite someone close to them to come along and help. This can extend the health benefits of volunteering to someone in their circle – and deepen a friendship.

The mental health benefits of volunteering

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

Volunteering may not be the first thing people think of, when feeling down or lonely. But studies show that volunteering can have great benefits for a person’s mental health. Here are a few examples:

  • Volunteering with people can ward off loneliness, depression and anger. The volunteer both focuses on others and strengthens their social network, according to the Harvard Health web site.
  • Volunteering on a scheduled basis gives structure when life is without motivation. According to this volunteer, it gave her a clear reason to “get up off the couch”.
  • Volunteering outside has its own set of benefits, according to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Time spent in nature can reduce stress and anxiety and improves the mood, studies show.
  • Volunteering in any area gives people a sense of self-worth and achievement, indicate major studies like this one from the U.K.
 

2) Who volunteers?

A group of Canadian teen and adult volunteers stand close together while smiling for the camera. Most are wearing grey T-shirts with “love” printed on the front. In the background is a sign reading “Connect – The Honduras Project”.Volunteering is a great way for young people to make a difference in the world. Especially when they get to meet celebrities like comedian Steve Geyer (left)! Steve is also a volunteer ambassador for World Vision Canada. Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Miller

Everyone has their own reasons for volunteering. You may want to ask a volunteer you know why they do it. Here are some motivations you might hear:
  • The volunteer at your child’s school might miss her grown-up kids.
  • The volunteer who helps build houses might be looking to learn new skills.
  • The volunteer at your local hospital might have a relative whose life was saved there.
  • The volunteer at the food bank might have gone hungry as a child.
  • The volunteer at a World Vision event might have been moved by the stories of world events on the news.
The demographics of volunteerism

The degree to which people plunge into volunteerism does vary by factors such as age and level of education. The details are unpacked in a report by Statistics Canada.

This comprehensive report on volunteering in Canada showed that six in ten people volunteer at some point in their lives. The study also indicated that, in general:
  • Teens had the highest volunteer rate with senior citizen volunteers most likely to contribute the greatest number of hours.
  • Women were more likely to volunteer than men.
  • Canadians with university degrees or some post-secondary experience were more likely to volunteer than were high school graduates or those without high school diplomas.
  • Those with higher household income were more likely to volunteer than those with lower.
  • Employed Canadians were more likely to volunteer than those without jobs.
  • Early life experiences made a difference in people’s volunteering choices. Childhood experiences like student government and membership in youth groups, Guides, Scouts or organized sports affected people’s adult choices.
 

3) How can volunteer experience help my career?

Volunteers play an important role at World Vision Canada's office in Mississauga, Ontario. Photo: Ryan Chan

“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs

The benefits of volunteering can show up in your resume – and in the job you land. People often don’t have direct experience in the field they want, or the connections to land the job. Volunteering can help you build skills and connections. 

Employment Ontario has found that volunteer experience can help job seekers:

  • Meet new people – Get comfortable working with many kinds of people, including people you’ve just met. Observe how others navigate in the non-profit work environment and build your self-confidence.
  • Develop professional relationships – Develop new networks, hear about job openings, training opportunities and networking events. Elevate your visibility amongst influential community leaders.
  • Sharpen existing skills – Retain and sharpen existing skills like planning and budgeting. But you can also develop “soft skills” such as team leading, goal setting, problem solving and adaptability.
  • Develop new skills – Learn new skills and try new things in a relatively risk-free environment. You can explore entirely new fields, possibly discovering skills and interests you were previously unaware of. Volunteer Canada has some examples.
  • Boost performance – Volunteering stimulates the circulation of oxytocin, one of the “feel-good” neurochemicals. Your increased sense of well-being and reduction of stress will help you learn better, improve your focus and release your creativity.
  • Build the resume – Headhunters have long encouraged clients to include volunteer work on their resumes. It shows you have initiative, are willing to learn new things and can organize time to fit in volunteering.
 

4) What are the benefits of volunteering to Canada’s economy?

A group of people stand behind a table at a World Vision event. They are all smiling and wearing T-shirts reading “Love”. On the table are folders with photos.Volunteers help charities like World Vision Canada connect with Canadians. Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Miller

“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.” – Sherry Anderson

Canada marks National Volunteer Day each year for good reason. The benefits of volunteerism – both in Canada and for beneficiaries around the world – are hugely significant.

In 2018, The Conference Board of Canada released a study on the economic benefits of volunteerism to Canada. Here’s what they said:
  • They estimated that volunteers contributed more than two billion hours in 2017 alone.
  • They valued that economic contribution at $55.9 billion – equivalent to 2.6 per cent of the GDP.
  • They reported that if volunteering were an industry, it would employ nearly as many people as those currently working in education.
The report also noted the broader benefits of volunteering, noting that:
  • Volunteering can improve the life satisfaction of volunteers and may improve their health.
  • Research suggests that volunteers gain a range of business-relevant skills and can improve their work-related outcomes.
  • More and more workplaces are encouraging their employees to volunteer.
 

5) What are the benefits of volunteering if you’re a newcomer to Canada?

A young woman smiles at a little girl from Syria, who has pencil and paper in front of her. They are sitting together at a table in a classroom setting.When new Canadians volunteer with organizations like World Vision Canada, they can help families from their countries of birth. Here, a teacher works with a girl whose family fled Syria, at a World Vision early childhood education centre in Lebanon. Photo: George Mghames 

“If our hopes of building a better and safer world are to become more than wishful thinking, we will need the engagement of volunteers more than ever.” — Kofi Annan


Why volunteer if you’re a newcomer to Canada? Because you have a lot of unique perspectives and experience to share. The gains you make as a volunteer can be social, emotional and professional.

According to resources like Ontario’s settlement.org web site here are some of the benefits of volunteering if you’re a new Canadian:
  • You can help others, enjoying the feeling of giving.
  • You can make new friends and contacts.
  • You can understand more about how your new community operates.
  • You can learn skills that are applicable in Canada or brush up on old skills.
  • You can learn English as you volunteer your time and talents.
Here is a helpful guide from the volunteer.ca web site on getting started as a volunteer in Canada. It’s called Building Blocks for Newcomers: A Guide on Volunteering.
 

6) Why volunteer for World Vision Canada?

A woman kneels beside a child who is reading to her from a paper.
A volunteer ambassador for World Vision Canada listens to a child in Tanzania read aloud. Volunteers like these speak at gatherings and events back in Canada, motivating others to care for the world’s most vulnerable children. Photo: Paul Bettings 

Why volunteer with World Vision Canada? There are many important reasons – including the thousands of vulnerable girls and boys in countries around the world. Here are some others:
  • You can build your experience in not-for-profit work.
  • You can bond with your friends and co-workers by making it a group event.
  • You can help us keep our costs down, sending more money to field programs.
  • You can experience the joy of doing something truly meaningful with just a few hours a month.
Please note: World Vison Canada’s volunteer program is on hold at present, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are many kinds of volunteer opportunities available with World Vision Canada. Here are just a few:
  • Administration help at the Mississauga office.
  • Staffing tables at events.
  • Public speaking in your community.
  • Fundraising by running, walking or wheeling.
  • Volunteering as a group of friends or coworkers.
To learn more, visit this page on World Vision Canada’s web site.


7) How can I volunteer during the COVID-19 outbreak?

A small group of people wearing medical masks and standing six feet apart walks toward the camera. One of them has a megaphone. In the distance are huts and families.A team of World Vision aid workers arrives at a refugee camp in Uganda to educate the people about the novel coronavirus. Photo: Aggrey Nyondwa 

Why volunteer during COVID-19? You may have skills or expertise that are critically needed. And many Canadians have the extra hours to safely contribute during their time at home.

Several organizations are looking for volunteers right now, to respond to the coronavirus outbreak: Volunteering may be a way to combat boredom while helping fight a global and local threat. You can connect with others, care for the vulnerable and build your resume – all at the same time.

World Vision Canada will have opportunities for volunteers again once the COVID-19 crisis is over.

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