Volunteers are the lifeblood of nonprofits — without them, many simply would not exist.
Companies know that volunteering demonstrates their commitment to working for the good of their communities, so many businesses encourage their employees to volunteer, or sponsor volunteer programs and find that such programs help create a positive company culture.
Volunteers know they’re making a difference in the lives of others, and they derive great satisfaction from doing so.
But volunteering doesn’t just induce the positive feeling known as “helper’s high” — it offers mental and physical health benefits, and may even help job seekers find employment.
According to the Mayo Clinic Health System, research shows that volunteering lowers stress, boosts self-confidence, cuts the risk of depression, boosts physical activity, and may even help volunteers live longer.
A study published in the Jan. 25, 2016, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that volunteering was associated with a reduced probability of death from all causes, as compared with nonvolunteers.
That study used older people as subjects, but volunteering appears to benefit individuals regardless of their age.
Deloitte’s 2017 “Volunteerism Survey” explored how Americans view volunteerism in the workplace and its benefits to them, their communities, and businesses.
The survey was based on interviews with 1,000 U.S. employed adults who had volunteered in the previous 12 months.
The results showed creating a culture of volunteerism in the workplace may improve morale, the workplace environment and brand perception. Such a culture is very attractive to prospective employees, especially Millennials.
The survey found that Millennials who participate in workplace volunteer activities are more likely to be loyal and satisfied employees, compared with those who rarely or never volunteer.
Deloitte’s research showed that volunteering can build desirable leadership skills and hone other types of skills, such as construction and administrative work.
Deloitte’s 2016 survey of people who influence hiring found that listing volunteer experience on a résumé may make job candidates more attractive to employers.
“Skills-based volunteering experience provides a marketability edge for those seeking gainful employment,” Deloitte stated. “The findings support the value HR executives place on skilled volunteering, as well as its relevance for college graduates and veterans transitioning to civilian life.”
Those findings point toward volunteering as a way for people to obtain jobs.
Volunteering helps develop desirable workplace skills such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, organization and public speaking; builds networks of contacts and organizations that can be valuable for job seekers; and can provide career experience.
According to HelpGuide.org, a nonprofit mental health and wellness site, many nonprofit organizations provide extensive training for volunteer positions ranging from counseling to sales.
Volunteers can build upon skills they already have, learn new skills or even gain experience in a new career field.
“Volunteering offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment,” HelpGuide states. For example, people who are interested in health care can volunteer at hospitals or nursing homes.
At Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, which provides services to people in need — including the Marian House Soup Kitchen, English as a Second Language classes, career counseling and family services — volunteers shoulder the majority of the burden. They work in jobs from meal preparation to IT and administrative office work.
In the past eight years, Catholic Charities has employed nearly 3,000 volunteers, including about 600 recurring volunteers, said Doug Rouse, director of community and parish engagement. Volunteers have submitted more than 2,000 first-time applications.
Sixty to 70 volunteers a day, including two food service chefs, prep cooks, dishwashers and servers, run the Marian House program, Rouse said. The program averages 580 meals a day served to about 400 unique individuals.
Kitchen volunteers “interact with a lot of different people,” said Corey Almond, vice president for adult and immigrant services. “They learn that interacting well doesn’t always mean engaging everyone. They develop a sensitivity to people who are going through different kinds of things … like trauma, who deal with things differently.”
They also learn food service skills, including food safety guidelines, preparation, hosting and serving.
Volunteers also support the employment center, teaching interview skills, resumé preparation and other job-hunting basics. The center helped more than 170 people find jobs in the past year.
Volunteers teach ESL and citizenship preparedness classes and provide one-on-one tutoring. Those programs serve about 200 adults per year. Volunteers don’t have to speak another language or have teaching experience.
“We have a full training program for people who want to participate in the ESL program,” Almond said.
The Boys & Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region operates two after-school youth development programs and four before- and after-school child care programs, serving about 1,000 children. The two clubs in Colorado Springs provide safe places for kids to learn and grow.
Volunteers at the Boys & Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region perform services from facilities maintenance and hosting special events to “formalized” volunteering — working with youths and staff on a regular weekly basis, Vice President Jrace Rider said.
“We had 38 formalized volunteers in 2019,” Rider said, as well as 238 volunteers who came with a group to work on special projects.
Companies including Sherwin Williams, JE Dunn Construction and Encore Electric have donated materials and labor to a safe clubs campaign to spruce up the facilities and make repairs such as fixing lights and door locks.
“It’s probably worth $5,000 to $6,000 in labor for a day,” Rider said.
Boys & Girls Club also offers internships.
“We usually get interns from UCCS, Pikes Peak Community College and Colorado College,” she said. “Those are not always at the club level; they could be in administration as well. We have one now in the development office learning about grant writing.”
Most of the interns earn practice hours for their school and experience for their résumés, and many of the volunteer jobs open up into career opportunities, Rider said.
“We’ve hired quite a few of our volunteers over the years,” she said. “Ninety percent or better get hired on if they express interest.”
Others learn what it involves to be a youth development professional and may enter that field elsewhere, said Maurice Henson, director of operations.
“If they’re going to be a teacher, we do a letter to their employer or college,” Henson said.
The Home Front Military Care Network supports service members, veterans and their families with services such as emergency grants to pay expenses like rent and connects them to other needed resources. Among its programs is Welcome Home Heroes, which greets every plane full of service members returning from deployment.
That program alone has logged more than 9,200 volunteer service hours since 2010, Executive Director Kate Hatton said.
The organization was created in September 2019 through a merger of The Home Front Cares and Peak Military Care Network.
Hatton said volunteering with the network gives people opportunities to use skills they have and learn new skills.
“We like to have folks who are experts, but you might learn about how to put on a fundraiser or build a house,” Hatton said. “We have volunteer board members, pro bono legal counsel, a volunteer advisory board and volunteers who help put together fundraisers and outreach events.”
Nearly every nonprofit in the city needs volunteers, especially small organizations with small budgets.
“We very much appreciate our volunteers, who do so much to help organizations do the great work that we do,” Hatton said.