November 11, 2012

The By-Products of Volunteering

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Motivation, Organisation responsibilities, Recognition of Volunteering, volunteer experience tagged , , at 3:24 am by Sue Hine

We know all about the benefits of volunteering, for organisations and communities.  We can count up the numbers – of volunteers and hours worked – which show simple aggregates of inputs and outputs, and we are finding ways to offer evidence of ‘making a difference’.

We know how a well-run programme can attract new volunteers and donors and gains in street-cred for the organisation.  (And how quickly the reverse can happen if quality standards slip).

These days we know volunteer motivation can be less grounded in altruism than in seeking ROI – skill development, work experience and social contact.  That’s the individual and personal gain.

There are other spin-offs.  At volunteer gatherings where a mix of teams get together I have known excited reunions of people who went to school together or who lived in the same street a long time ago.

When volunteers are really engaged in the organisation you can bet they are developing relationships and forging new friendships.  There’s many a tale of clusters of volunteers who meet regularly out of the workplace, organise a reunion, start their own Facebook page.  Rugby World Cup volunteers got together again recently, to reminisce and to celebrate their achievements.

But did you know that Volunteering is also Good for Your Heart?

So says a report on research on individual health benefits of volunteering (published 2007).

Volunteer activities can strengthen the social ties that protect individuals from isolation during difficult times, while the experience of helping others leads to a sense of greater self-worth and trust.

Those who engage in volunteer activities are less likely to suffer from ill health later in life and may be introduced into a positive reinforcing cycle of good health and future volunteering.

Even when controlling for other factors such as age, health, and gender, research has found that when individuals volunteer, they are more likely to live longer.

These claims are substantiated in more than 30 studies reviewing the relationship between health and volunteering.  It is suggested by one commentator that Civic Engagement and Volunteering is the new hybrid health club for the 21st century – and it’s free to join.

Which is all very encouraging for volunteerism and community organisations and community well-being.  But is the correlation of volunteering with good health dependent on practice standards in organisations, and quality management of volunteers?    Feeling good about volunteering is certainly related to job satisfaction, a supportive work environment, and being respected and appreciated – all charged out as organisation responsibilities.

So the launch this week of Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Organisations is to be welcomed, by administrators, managers of volunteers, and surely – by volunteers themselves.

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