5 Things: Benefits of Volunteering

Why it’s as good for the giver as the receiver

Habitat for Humanity
photo courtesy of habitat for humanity

Mark Snyder, social psychologist and head of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota, has studied the phenomenon of volunteerism for more than 20 years. He shares a few insights that enrich the season of giving.

  1. It’s good (for you). According to Snyder, volunteering provides health benefits to those doing the giving. Volunteers experience improved mental and physical health, while elderly volunteers live longer.

  2. Make it a win-win. Whether it’s to advance their work or career, meet new friends, or simply improve the way they look at themselves, people who figure out how to make volunteering work for them are more likely to stick with it for the long haul. “They do good for society while doing good for themselves,” says Snyder.

  3. Your reasons can change with time. “Motives [for volunteering] associated with careers and jobs tend to decline with age,” Snyder says. “Where motives associated with citizenship and community contribution tend to increase.” 

  4. It’s not a gender thing. In the 1950s, most volunteer work was performed by stay-at-home mothers. Fast-forward to the year 2000, says Snyder, and that gender gap has all but disappeared. “Women, as they’ve entered the labor force, have continued to volunteer just as much as ever. Men have been engaging in a certain amount of catching up.”

  5. The value is real (and huge). Sixty million adults volunteer in the U.S. each year, providing an estimated $180 billion in services. Snyder points out that the value of volunteer services is three times as big as the annual budget of the Department of Homeland Security.