Whoa, whoa, whoa. Work for free? I’ve got a family to feed, man!

Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to quit your job (unless you really want to).

I’m telling you to consider volunteering your spare time for a cause that’s close to your heart. Being a volunteer gives you the opportunity to change lives. It also helps you prioritize what’s truly important (people) versus what we can sometimes get consumed with (paycheck).

And the good news is there are so many great organizations that are begging for more people to get involved.

Read on for more reasons to start volunteering and some easy ways to get plugged in.

Volunteering Makes You Happy

Joining a cause you are passionate about is one of the best ways to improve your overall well-being. Want proof? According to a long-term study by the National Institutes of Health, participation in volunteering resulted in:

• 8.54 percent increase in mental health.

• 9.08 percent boost in physical health.

• 7.35 percent climb in life satisfaction.

• 11.11 percent jump in social well-being.

• 4.30 percent decrease in depression.

The numbers don’t lie. We are happier when we’re giving back.

“Warm Glow”

When we help others, we tend to experience what researchers call a “warm glow.” It’s hard to describe, but we’ve all felt it when volunteering our time, money or energy toward the greater good.

I talked with an executive this week who has been involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America for the past couple decades. One of his “little brothers” was in fourth grade when they started interacting. Last week, he turned 21 and is on the road to a successful career.

“It’s surreal to see them grow and you can’t help but wonder how their life path has changed thanks to Big Brothers, Big Sisters,” he said. “It’s a very rewarding experience.”

Find Your People

As we continue to break out of our pandemic shackles this summer, volunteering is a great way to re-engage with people. When I’m active in volunteering my time, I feel more connected to others and become less absorbed in the normal stresses of daily life. It’s an amazing experience to work with others in support of a food pantry, school, a family in need or a community effort. Even a couple hours on a Saturday can make a big difference and help you interact with other likeminded people from the area.

Social interaction improves mental and physical health, according to Psychology Today. The benefits of consistent socializing include better brain function, lower risk for anxiety, and a better immune system. Volunteering is one of the easiest ways to socialize for people of all ages.

Build Your Skills

Volunteering can also be a great way to improve your professional abilities. In a recent report by the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers found that participants ages 16 to 24 and 55 to 74 were especially likely to benefit from volunteering, perhaps because of the opportunity to build new skills.

These can include communication, teamwork, relationship building, collaboration, and problem-solving. Especially for people looking to start their career or make a change into a new industry, volunteering can sharpen your skills and get you ready for your job search.

Many companies offer opportunities for their employees to give back. One major global organization I have been supporting gives their workers one day off per month for volunteering activities. They also encourage their employees to donate funds to their charity of choice, and will actually match those donations dollar for dollar.

If you’re a leader of a company, consider implementing a program like this to empower and energize your team.

How to Get Started

You can look online to find various “volunteer match” programs that will link you up with efforts in the area. You can also read about nonprofit activities in this paper or by searching social media to see what other people in the area are involved in.

But first, you have to figure out what you’ll be able to contribute and to what cause. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before jumping into the world of volunteering:

• What are my skills?

• What causes or issues are important to me?

• How much time do I have to devote to volunteering?

• Do I know anyone who is heavily involved with giving back?

So yeah, it’s time to work for free. Your community needs you. And you need it.

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