Blog Articles

By - Staff Editor

Published : 10-04-2018

On Volunteering; doing good for all of us

For the moment, slavefreetrade is a 100% volunteer organisation. Driven by volunteerism for the past almost two years, around 70,000 hours, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on that journey and help make the case for you to volunteer to the right cause.

We all have busy lives; that is the way of the world. So, it can be, in the beginning, hard to imagine finding the time to volunteer. The counter-argument to this is, in fact, how can you NOT find the time it takes to volunteer? Every single bit of research out there around volunteerism finds unequivocally that the benefits of volunteering are enormous to you, your family, and your community.

The right volunteering match can help you to reduce stress, find friends, reach out to the community, learn new skills, and advance your career. We have found from volunteer feedback that the volunteer act, one of giving to others, helps protect your mental and physical health. What follows is a confirmation that volunteering is incredibly worthwhile, and very much worth finding the time for in your busy lives; it will make those lives seem, in fact, less jammed up.

So, why volunteer?

Volunteering offers vital help to people less privileged, worthwhile causes, and the community, but the benefits can be even greater for you. Volunteering and helping others is proved to help people reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose. Meaning is a huge one; so many people I find bemoan the shallowness of the material life, and every single volunteer we have had has put ‘helping to bring meaning to life’ as one of their top outcomes.

While the research shows that the more you volunteer, the more benefits you’ll experience, volunteering doesn’t have to involve a long-term commitment or take a huge amount of time out of your busy day. We have people come and go, with ups and downs in their availability and input. That happens. Life is not linear. But giving in even simple ways can help others those in need and improve your health and happiness.

Benefits of volunteering

Our volunteer workforce has provided the following feedback to us over the last two years, as to the benefits of their volunteering:

  • Connecting to others
  • Improves both mind and body
  • Advances your career
  • Brings meaning, fun, and fulfilment to your life

Benefit 1: Volunteering connects you to others

One of the better-known benefits of volunteering is the impact on the community, whether local or global. Volunteering allows you to connect to your community/ies and make it/them a better place. There is no better gathering of like-minded individuals in a community than the volunteer organisation you decide to join. If you want to be there and give of your time, you obviously buy into the vision. As do every one of your colleagues. It is not at all the same as the community at any normal, bread and butter, job. Even helping out with the smallest tasks can make a real difference to the lives of people; it does not get easier than that to add meaning to your time.

Volunteering is very much a two-way street: it can benefit you and your family as much as the cause you choose to help. Dedicating your time as a volunteer helps you make new friends, expand your network, and boost your social skills. It is also a great learning platform and conversation starter; you buy into the vision, why would your friends and family not be interested in hearing about it?

Make new friends and contacts

Being a volunteer provides a huge boost to your personal and professional network

One of the best ways to make new friends and colleagues and strengthen existing relationships is to commit to a shared activity together. Being a volunteer is a quite phenomenal networking opportunity precisely because people with varied skills but shared vision make a great network. A lot of people who have come through the volunteer ranks at slavefreetrade have been able to use the skills, networks and experience of their volunteering to help them into new full-time jobs.

Volunteering is a great way to meet new people from all over the world, potentially. slavefreetrade volunteers are all over the globe; it is a diverse and rich community that you can experience. Being a volunteer with slavefreetrade - or with any volunteer cause - broadens your support network, exposing you to people with common interests, professional resources, and personally rewarding activities.

Increase your social and relationship skills

While some people are naturally outgoing, others are not. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, since you are interacting constantly with a group of people with common interests. This is especially the case in virtual volunteering, like at slavefreetrade. Because you are online, you engage with colleagues in a very non-confronting way. That suits a lot of personalities. Once you have momentum, it’s easier to branch out and make more friends and contacts in other parts of your life.

Volunteering as a family

Your children watch everything you do. By giving your brain and heart to a cause, you show them first-hand how volunteering makes a difference and how good it feels to help other people. You show them that you care about an issue enough to work for it, knowing it is not directly putting food on the table. I can attest that my daughter watches every development of slavefreetrade, tells all her friends about it, and even proudly wears slavefreetrade shirts and dresses to school for show and tell! It is actually quite a beautiful way to expose your children to good causes and issues, and help ground them in meaningful activity.

Benefit 2: Volunteering is good for your mind and body

Volunteering provides many benefits to both mental and physical health.

Volunteering has been shown to help counteract the effects of stress, anger, and anxiety. The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being. Nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection to another person or working in a group of dedicated people. Except maybe pets; I think cats and dogs might trump it, but only just.

Volunteering for a good cause is like CPR for the soul.

Volunteering combats depression. Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system, which in turn protects you against depression.

Volunteering makes you happy. By measuring hormones and brain activity, researchers have discovered that being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure. Human beings are hard-wired to give to others. The more we give, the happier we feel. A lot of people consider themselves happy with the acquisition of material goods. That is nothing compared to the personal satisfaction of volunteering.

Volunteering increases self-confidence. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals. Most of our volunteers very proudly talk to colleagues and friends and family about their role and what the organisation is doing.

Volunteering provides a sense of purpose. Everyone can find a real sense of purpose in their lives by finding the most worthwhile things to do, things that resonate with their values. There is no shortage of causes out there; so just find one that touches you, or motivates you, to help. Whatever your age or life situation, volunteering can help take your mind off your own worries, keep you mentally stimulated and, just like this macaque, adds zest to your life.

Volunteering helps you stay physically healthy. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not. Believe it or not, volunteers have been found to walk more, find it easier to cope with everyday tasks, are less likely to develop high blood pressure, and have better thinking skills. Volunteering can also lessen symptoms of chronic pain and reduce the risk of heart disease. I might be pushing the limits here now, but it is all borne out as true impact of volunteering on the human being.

Benefit 3: Volunteering can advance your career

This is one of the leading areas of feedback from our volunteers; working with us helps them in their career. If you’re considering a new career, or could do with help gathering or improving skills for your current career path, volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and meet people in the field. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organisation. You might feel more comfortable stretching your wings at work once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first. And the skills can be validly included on your CV.

Teaching you valuable job skills

Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteering opportunities will take you well beyond your existing skill-set precisely because volunteer organisations need to stretch everyone to cover all bases. If you are not being stretched in a volunteer, it normally would come back to you, not the lack of work to be done.

Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit a larger community. For instance, if you hold a successful sales position, you raise awareness for your favourite cause as a volunteer advocate, while further developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills.

Gaining career experience

Volunteering offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. It is also a great way to gain experience in a new field. In some fields, you can volunteer directly at an organisation that does the kind of work you’re interested in. And you can also build your network out in your chosen fields, and those of the volunteer organisation; the majority of jobs are found through networks, not job ads.

Your volunteer work will definitely expose you to professional organisations or internships that could be of benefit to your career.

Passion and positivity are the only requirements

While learning new skills can be beneficial to many, it’s not a requirement for a fulfilling volunteer experience. Bear in mind that the most valuable skills you can bring to any volunteer effort are compassion, an open mind, a willingness to do whatever is needed, and a positive attitude.

Benefit 4: Volunteering brings fun and fulfilment to your life

Volunteering is a fun and easy way to explore your interests and passions. Doing volunteer work you find meaningful and interesting can be a relaxing, energising escape from your day-to-day routine of work, school, or family commitments. Volunteering also provides you with renewed creativity, motivation, and vision that can carry over into your personal and professional life. Many people volunteer in order to make time for hobbies outside of work as well. Finding the right cause to work with can itself bring new ideas to you about things you enjoy, care about, or are good at.

Tips for getting started

First, ask yourself if there is something specific you want to do.

For example, do I want…

  • …to make it better around where I live
  • …to meet people who are different from me
  • …to try something new
  • …to do something with my spare time
  • …to see a different way of life and new places
  • …to have a go at the type of work I might want to do as a full-time job
  • …to do more with my interests and hobbies
  • …to do something I’m good at

The best way to volunteer is to match your personality and interests. Having answers to these questions will help you narrow down your search.

  • Would you be okay to work remotely from home or prefer to go out?
  • Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team?
  • Are you better behind the scenes or do you prefer to take a more visible role?
  • How much time are you willing to commit?
  • What skills can you bring to a volunteer job?
  • What causes are important to you?
  • How much time should you volunteer?

Volunteering doesn’t have to take over your life to be beneficial. Research (yes, again with the research!) shows that just two to three hours per week can confer the most benefits—to both you and your chosen cause. The important thing is to volunteer only the amount of time that feels comfortable to you. Volunteering should feel like a fun and rewarding hobby, not another chore on your to-do list. If it gets to be a chore, get out; it is not doing you the good it should at that point.

Make sure you get the most out of it

You’re donating your valuable time, so it’s important that you enjoy and benefit from your volunteering. At slavefreetrade, we constantly keep our finger on the pulse of volunteers to see how they are feeling about the organisation and the work they are doing. But ultimately is is up to the individual to decide whether they are happy with it, and to make sure they do get the most out of the role. To make sure that your volunteer position is a good fit:

Ask questions. You want to make sure that the experience is right for your skills, your goals, and the time you want to spend. Sample questions to your volunteer coordinator might address your time commitment, if there’s any training involved, who you will be working with, and what to do if you have questions during your experience.

Make sure you know what’s expected. You should be comfortable with the organization and understand the time commitment. Consider starting small so that you don’t over commit yourself at first. Give yourself some flexibility to change your focus if needed.

Don’t be afraid to make a change. Don’t force yourself into a bad fit or feel compelled to stick with a volunteer role you dislike. Talk to the organization about changing your focus or look for a different organization that’s a better fit.

Enjoy yourself. The best volunteer experiences benefit both the volunteer and the organization. If you’re not enjoying yourself, ask yourself why. Is it the tasks you’re performing? The people you’re working with? Or are you uncomfortable simply because the situation is new and familiar? Pinpointing what’s bothering you can help you decide how to proceed.

While not arguing specifically for people to volunteer with slavefreetrade, it is true we can never have enough people to get the work done to see modern slavery removed from the products we buy.

Some professional areas are harder than others to find volunteers, like sales and marketing has proved near-impossible for us. So, we are very short on some skills and perfectly okay with others. Just volunteer anyway, if not with slavefreetrade, then find something else that floats your boat. It is in your hands; make it work for the health, well-being, and sense of purpose, but for the sake of the cause, and for your own family, friends, and careers.

Join. Something.