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3 Unexpected Benefits of Becoming a Volunteer
Volunteering is for everyone.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr once said that “everybody can be great…because anybody can serve”. If you have the ability to take time out of your life to help others, you should absolutely do it. You’ll be amazed at the impact it has on the people you serve, as well as your own life.
I’ve volunteered at a handful of places, in both short and long-term roles. When you find the right fit, it can be an incredible experience. Over the next few minutes, you’ll discover some benefits of becoming a volunteer, as well as tips for how to get started.
You’ll Become More Grateful
Can you name one person who doesn’t feel good after helping someone else?
Becoming a volunteer allows you to see life in a different way, through someone else’s lens. Even if just for a little while. It feels good to know that you’re making a difference in the lives of others, and that you’re doing it without the expectation of anything in return.
When you contribute to a cause or project that doesn’t directly benefit you in any way, you’ll become more grateful for the opportunities that you have. You’ll feel more empathy and compassion for the people using the services that you are providing.
Volunteer a few times and you’ll begin to experience the joy of being a small part in helping to improve the life of someone else.
You’ll Get More Than You Give
Obviously, this isn’t the reason to become a volunteer. However, more often than not, this is the outcome you’ll experience. My first time volunteering was as a 3rd & 4th Grade Head Coach for a co-ed soccer league in 2007. I wasn’t even sure what I was doing at first. That part rarely matters.
When you volunteer, the people you serve are incredibly grateful that you’re giving your time and talents to help them. In just my first season, I was told by a parent of a player that he learned more in the 2 months that I coached him than he had in the previous 3 years combined.
The day the season ended, I came home to a call on my voicemail from another family. They wanted to know how to get their son on my team the following season, even though we had just lost the championship 11-1 the day before.
When you show up consistently with a good attitude and give your best effort, it makes a real impact. People want to associate with someone who enjoys the process and is always looking to improve, regardless of short-term results. That leads to additional opportunities, so in that way, you’ll receive, even if you were just there to give.
A Chance to Develop Your Skills
That first year as a volunteer coach led to a promotion. I was asked to coach the Boys U-10 travel team for 2008, and I accepted. It didn’t work out long-term, and I was back at the recreational league as a volunteer coach in 2009. Because of that experience though, I had a new opportunity.
Our organization was looking for a volunteer to become the website manager in the summer of 2008. I had practically no experience with websites, but I was interested and willing to learn. At our travel coaches meeting, I volunteered and got the position on the spot.
That experience helped me to improve my writing, design, and technical abilities. I re-wrote our rules (have been a referee since 1994), created game schedules, and completely redesigned the website several times. People loved that they could get all of the forms that they needed online, and that they were so well organized. I remained in that volunteer position until 2021.
Today, I update the Lyon Software website and create a lot of the graphics that we’ve used at various conferences in our virtual booths (as well as the image on this post). Taking over the Lyon Software website was only possible because I volunteered to manage a youth soccer league’s website in 2008.
Some Tips When Considering Opportunities
When you’re deciding where to volunteer, think about what you enjoy doing. I think where a lot of people go wrong is that they sign up for something that they have no interest in, just because it’s convenient or available. But the truth is, you can volunteer just about anywhere.
If you enjoy the activity, there is a greater chance that you’ll have a positive experience. On the flip side, if you’re not having a good time, that will also be noticed. You’re giving your time, so make sure your volunteer experience is one that is both rewarding and enjoyable.
Also, remember that there are quite a few one-time volunteer opportunities. These can be great to get familiar with the process of becoming a volunteer. In the past, I’ve volunteered to set up an Easter egg hunt in my community. More recently, 4 of us at Lyon Software went downtown to our local arena in August and spent the morning filling backpacks for school-aged children in a community-wide event.
Keep in mind that many different types of organizations need volunteers. You may think of volunteering as working in a soup kitchen or food pantry. Obviously, those are great options and fill a tremendous need. Just remember that there are a plethora of volunteer opportunities available to you. You don’t have to limit yourself to one type of activity.
Keep Trying New Places
It may take you several tries before you find a volunteer position that feels like a perfect fit. If you’re looking to be a long-term volunteer, keep searching until you find it. You’ll be glad you did, and so will the organization you’re serving.
In the beginning, go into each shift with the attitude that you’re trying it out. You aren’t making a long-term commitment. Then, if you volunteer 2-3 times and it doesn’t feel right for you, be direct with your main contact and let them know.
If you want to keep volunteering for that organization, they will find a different spot for you. They’ll appreciate your honesty and that you want the best experience possible – both for yourself and the people you serve.
Everybody wins that way!