BC Association of Community Response Networks

National Volunteer Week and Six Benefits of Volunteering

National Volunteer Week image banner: Colourful image with people helping each other titled volunteering weaves us together

National Volunteer Week is coming up April 16-22. Many organizations say volunteers are the backbone of their operations and we couldn’t agree more! In honour of National Volunteer Week, we look at the benefits for volunteers and for communities.

National Volunteer Week 2023

In Canada, National Volunteer Week originated in 1943 as a way to recognize the contributions of women on the home front during World War II. Since then, the benefits and contributions of volunteers have been the threads that weave us together. 

Many people report feeling excited, like a “runner’s high,” after volunteering. Others feel a deep sense of community, or that their chronic pain eases for days afterwards. Research shows the many benefits of volunteering boosts both our mental and physical health. 

Volunteers often report the rewards of giving back to their communities are greater than any effort they expend. Many say that a simple act of kindness can improve their day. Think of what long-term volunteering can do. Here are six benefits of volunteering that show the impact for individuals and their communities.

Benefit #1 Volunteering Connects You to Other People

Despite how busy our lives can be, many of us feel a lack of personal connections. Rushing around for work and meeting family obligations does put us in touch with others, yet sometimes those activities just leave us exhausted. Volunteering connects us to our communities, helps us make new friends and makes us feel a sense of achievement from helping others.

Benefit #2 Volunteering is Good for Mental Health

It’s fair to say that volunteering helps beat depression, anxiety and feelings of social isolation. 

Volunteering releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood in the brain, and oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Researchers found that both volunteering and receiving services from volunteers have the same benefits. A research project at the University of British Columbia found that even toddlers benefit from giving and sharing, deriving more happiness by giving to other children than keeping their snacks to themselves. The more we give, the better we feel. 

Benefit #3 Volunteering is Good for Physical Health

Our bodies also benefit from our volunteer activities. Walking as we distribute items, working in a community office or any other physical activity has strong health benefits. Add to this the happiness component and we reduce stressors causing heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic pain and other illnesses. 

People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early,” writes Dr. Christine Carter. “And that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.”

Benefit #4 Volunteering Helps Build Skills

If you are considering a new career, or advancement in your current one, volunteering is a great way to learn new skills. If you are considering a career in geriatric care, for example, volunteering at your local seniors’ centre is a great way to meet older adults and understand some of their needs. This could apply to working with elders on your First Nation, at the local Community Living centre, your hospital’s hospice unit, or any opportunity that helps you learn how to work in  your area of interest. Many volunteer positions offer extensive training that can help you in a formal career.

Benefit #5 Volunteering Helps Communities

Four in five Canadians aged 15 and older volunteered in 2018, either through an organization or informally on their own, according to StatsCan. A total of 24 million Canadians volunteered 2.5 million hours of their time to improve health, well-being, education and safety in their communities. Many organizations reported a decline in volunteerism as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but volunteers are coming back. StatsCan will release an updated report later in 2023 and we’ll publish results when we have them. 

This substantial economic contribution is the backbone of many not-for-profit organizations, allowing staff to focus on policy and essential needs while receiving the support of volunteers for administrative tasks, event coordination and simple frontline service. 

Benefit #6 Volunteering Builds Social Impact in Communities

Volunteering builds empathy and helps people see various sides of social issues. Volunteering can be an opportunity to learn about and help improve community issues, especially for members of society who have little exposure to people in other social or economic circumstances. Helping older and vulnerable adults with social activities, meal programs for children from low-income and clothing drives for people experiencing homelessness or unstable housing allows us to interact with people in our communities. 

National Volunteer Week is April 16 to 22, 2023

After a post-war lull, volunteerism was promoted once again in the 1960s, becoming a staple of Canadian culture. Volunteer Canada now spearheads National Volunteer Week and has created excellent resources to help our local community resource networks thank our valuable volunteers. If you are a volunteer, thank you for all you do!