You get what you give. The New Radicals speak a certain truth with their one-hit wonder. Researchers have found that there is a multitude of benefits for volunteering, but I can personally attest to the advantages that giving up your time can bring you. People may say that it’s not true altruism if you gain from giving, but the great thing is that everyone wins, no matter your motivation for doing it.
Working with volunteers for the PDSA, there was a wide variety of people who came in looking to help the charity. That’s one of the advantages that volunteering brings you- the chance to meet new people and learn from them. Empathy is an important attribute, and crossing paths with people that you might not meet under different circumstances can really change your outlook on things.
In addition, there are the less-obvious influences on mental health. Having a mental health condition can often make you feel disenfranchised and lost. What does volunteering give you? A sense of purpose, control, and self-improvement. There are studies that show that the validation you get from volunteering can have a positive influence on depression. University, in particular, can be an unsettling time for everyone- in 2016 YouGov reported that 1 in 4 students suffer from a mental health problem. But, it’s also the time when it’s easiest to get involved with charity work. There’s DUCK, SCA and Team Durham, not to mention the myriad of other worthy causes around Durham that rely on volunteers to run. The North-East is one of the most traditionally deprived areas in England that has been deeply affected by the persistent loss of industry, so there’s always people out there who need your help.
Furthermore, there are the skills you can develop along the way. It seems like you need to have more years experience than you’ve lived in order to get a good job. Charity work can help you build up your skills. I can say that I’ve done auditing, data handling, PR, training and more. It’s all valuable experience even if you don’t get paid to do it.
Then there’s the so-called ‘soft skills’- things like leadership and teamwork. Volunteering is the best way of providing concrete examples of why you possess those traits. You bet I needed leadership when a kid locked me and three children in a rabbit pen and ran off (someone got us out in the end). Anecdotes aside, these are all things that employers look for when sifting through thousands of applications.
Obviously, you shouldn’t do charity work just for yourself, you should do it to help causes in need. I’m reminded of an elderly man who would come into the PDSA shop every month and donate £20. He told me that, many years ago, his dog needed vet treatment and he simply couldn’t afford it. So he went to the PDSA. Now that he has enough money, he donates to show his sincere gratitude to the organisation. Generosity begets generosity, so helping others can be a catalyst for good. Find a cause you’re passionate about, and support it!
Here are some links to websites where you can find out more about opportunities: