They say it’s better to give than to receive. Many people see volunteering as a poor substitute for landing a paying job, but although it may not bring ﬁnancial beneﬁts, voluntary work can teach you new skills, widen your social circle, and improve your mental health.
By Louise Carey
The advantages of launching a career are obvious: the chance to do something you enjoy every day, attain personal fulfillment and, perhaps most importantly, earn a reliable wage. With such compelling reasons to focus on paid employment, the voluntary sector often ends up playing second ﬁddle to the attractions of a steady salary. But, putting the issue of money aside for a moment, volunteering can actually bring you many of the same beneﬁts as a paying job, and some more besides. It’s common to dwell on the things you give away when volunteering- your time, your energy- but these sacriﬁces are often far outweighed by the rewards you can gain in return.
Boost your wellbeing
It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the biggest advantages of donating your time to help others is the effect that it can have on your own mental health and wellbeing. A study by researchers at the London School of Economics has found that volunteers report feeling happier than non-volunteers. And although voluntary work doesn’t pay, it was found to be an equaliser between people with high and low incomes, with volunteers equally likely to be happy no matter their earnings.
One of the reasons that voluntary work has such a positive impact on mental health is that it can take your mind off your own health issues and concerns, helping to combat stress and depression. It can also connect you to a community of other volunteers, reducing isolation and reinvigorating your social life by introducing you to like-minded people. Clearly, while volunteering won’t earn you any money, it can bring you things that money can’t buy.
Learn useful skills
Though volunteering is, by deﬁnition, about giving your time away for free, that’s not to say that it can’t also beneﬁt your career. Donating your time to charities and other organisations can gain you experience and skills which might help you on the way to a paying job somewhere down the line. Research from the University of Birmingham has found that disabled people who volunteered several times a year were slightly more likely to move into paid employment than those who did not volunteer, though the odds of ﬁnding work did not increase with the frequency of volunteering.
You can improve your chances of moving from voluntary to paid work even further by focusing on unpaid opportunities which are relevant to your career aspirations. Charities such as Samaritans and Crisis often offer free training to their volunteers – a valuable addition to any CV.
Where to start?
Volunteering with a disability can be difﬁcult: while employers have an obligation under the 2010 Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees, disabled volunteers do not enjoy the same legal protection. However, national volunteering charity Volunteering Matters has stated that “Having a physical or learning disability shouldn’t prevent anyone from volunteering”, and that they are committed to providing opportunities for volunteers with disabilities. Their Volunteer Charter, launched with the Disability Action Alliance, sets out a list of core principles for volunteer organisations to follow to ensure that they value and welcome the contributions of disabled individuals. Already, 120 organisations have committed to this charter, including the Red Cross and Macmillan Cancer Support, and any one of them would be a good starting point if you’re thinking about becoming a volunteer. It’s a decision which could change your life.