Why volunteering is good for you
Updated February 2023 | 5 min read
Words by Katherine Chatfield
Giving back can help you feel happier, healthier and more connected. Here’s how to become a volunteer.
Whether it’s helping in a crisis, directing nippers on the beach, or turning up every week to help in the local op shop, Aussies are great at doing good. It’s estimated that nearly 6 million Aussies volunteer through an organisation every year, giving more than 700 million hours of our time. Research from Volunteering Australia also shows that people aged 40 to 54 are the most likely to volunteer through an organisation, while people aged 25 to 39 have the highest rate of informal volunteering.
We donate our labour to a diverse range of organisations, but there are three big areas that get the majority of our volunteering time:
- 39% of volunteers help at sporting and physical recreation groups
- 23% help at religious groups
- 21% lend a hand at education and training events.
While it might be seen as a selfless act, volunteers can also get a lot out of giving back in their downtime. People who donate their time are happier and healthier than those who don’t, according to research. The same research showed that people who volunteer were 25% more likely to say they were in excellent health, reporting lower blood pressure, and relief from depression and chronic pain. Volunteering also helps to develop a sense of community and belonging by working towards a common goal.
The majority of volunteers say they’re motivated by understanding the impact they have on the organisation they’re helping, with others saying they want to spend their time doing something they’re interested in.
How do I choose where to volunteer?
If you'd like to volunteer, think about the causes you care about, and whether you could make use of any of your skills to help others.
GoVolunteer has a list of volunteer opportunities in your local area, ranging from specialist roles like financial counselling and tai chi instruction, through to basic gardening and offering friendship to aged care residents. You can also check the local library message board in your area to find out about opportunities to give back in your spare time.
What are the different types of volunteering?
This often takes place in community organisations like neighbourhood groups, sports clubs or schools. You might jump in and help out with fundraising for a friend, or do some shopping for a neighbour.
These roles are usually structured by an organisation and require regular or ongoing attendance. Formal volunteering can be based around the delivery of services, like delivery of meals through Meals on Wheels, or providing activities in an aged care facility. Other types include mentoring young people or working in an op shop.
This is normally spontaneous, occurring during or after a disaster like flooding, bushfires and cyclones, and volunteers offer their services to aid in recovery for short amounts of time.
Volunteering as a student is a great way to get involved in the community. It can help you determine how you like to work, give you real-world experience, and allow you to consider what sort of career you might like. It looks great on your resume, too.
Volunteering as a family can help you connect in a different way, and often gives your children the chance to take the initiative. It’s a great way of discovering new things about each other, and can change a family dynamic. Kids Giving Back offers family opportunities to volunteer if you’re Sydney based.
Spend your next holiday giving back while also experiencing a new culture. Volunteering holidays can last from a week to several months, and you can go pretty much anywhere in the world. International Volunteer HQ offers projects including teaching, construction and renovation, childcare, and community development in places like Cambodia, Costa Rica, Laos and Nepal. GVI Australia offers projects overseas, if you want to do something different on your next family trip, including wildlife conservation and helping community organisations.
Volunteering on Christmas Day
Volunteering on Christmas Day can be a great way to feel like you’re giving back in a season of excess. Soup kitchens, nursing homes and shelters are often keen for extra help around this time of year. The Salvation Army, The Smith Family and Meals on Wheels can all be great places to ask if they need volunteers.
What do I need to consider before volunteering?
Before you agree to a volunteer role, it’s worth considering the logistics around it. Think about how much time you can commit to, what times you’re available, and whether you’re able to make a regular commitment or would prefer short-term or one-off projects.
The location of the organisation is important, too. Work out how long it will take you to get there, and whether this will involve any transport costs.
Depending on the type of volunteering and the organisation you’re interested in, it’s worth asking questions to make sure your expectations are realistic.
Here are some helpful questions to think about:
- Is there a written volunteer policy explaining your rights and what you can expect from the organisation? Is it available for you to read?
- Are you covered by volunteer insurance?
- Is there a written job description for the volunteer position?
- Is the organisation willing to provide you with written information about itself?
- Is there a point of contact for volunteers if you need to speak to someone?
- Is there any training or induction before you start?
How volunteering makes a difference
Anna Johnson, 45, volunteers at her local nippers club every week and at the school P&C (Parents and Citizens Association).
“I volunteer at two local organisations. Nippers is run by volunteers, so I felt that if I wanted my kids to participate, I should contribute in some way. I’m also the treasurer at the school P&C. P&Cs rely on volunteers and I feel a social responsibility to give some of my time to try to make my kids’ school a better place.
“At nippers, along with other parent volunteers, I take the kids through a variety of beach and water activities to develop their skills and help them become more comfortable in the water. It’s also a support role, providing encouragement and support to kids who are a little more apprehensive. P&C activities are more sporadic, and include providing the treasurer’s report each monthly meeting, as well as paying invoices, and helping run P&C events.
“I love seeing kids getting involved at nippers, watching them learn new skills, be physically active, and make new friends. With the P&C, I’m trying to help create a cohesive and inclusive school community, as well as assist the school in providing additional learning opportunities, activities and equipment and funds to help facilitate this.
“To anyone considering volunteering, I’d say ‘get amongst it!’ So many organisations rely on volunteers to help keep costs down, or to provide services to people in need. Volunteer for something that you feel is important and can make a difference.”
Ways to give back
Want to volunteer or donate but unsure where to start? Here are some ideas.
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