People who do volunteer work earn respect from their community and set an example of selflessness that others want to follow. Research shows volunteering improves the health of the person giving their time and the people with whom they work.
Respect and improved health, however, do not motivate volunteers to stay with an organization indefinitely. The question, then: What will motivate volunteers to stay?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that more than 62 million Americans did volunteer work for one or more days between September 2012 and September 2013. Married women between the ages of 34 to 44 volunteered more than any other demographic.
The most popular places and organizations to give time include:
- Religious organizations (33-percent)
- Education projects (25-percent)
- Community service (14-percent)
Why people volunteer
An American Medical Association study finds that people of all ages, education and financial status give the same reasons for volunteering:
- To gain a better understanding of people
- To raise their self-esteem
- For humanitarian reasons or to satisfy personal needs
- To help a part of the community they feel an attachment to
- For personal growth in a career, to make friends or as a self-challenge
Ongoing research studies find that volunteering at any age improves overall health. Some immediate effects on the body include:
- A reduced heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower stress
- Increased level of endorphins
- A stronger immune system
Young volunteers in the studies showed higher levels of social functioning than their peers who did no volunteer work. Their overall health proved better, as well.
Older people who volunteer live longer and report fewer health issues. As people age, they become less social and less active. Volunteering keeps seniors active and engaged with others, this contributes to overall better health.
Why do volunteers leave?
With all the health advantages and general feeling of well-being associated with volunteer work, why do so many leave after a short time?
Theories regarding the subject suggest that volunteers expect something in return for their service. When they do not receive their perceived reward, they move on. These expected rewards include:
- More gratitude for their services
- Complements on their work and efforts
- A desk, parking spot or a chance to advance
Volunteers with high skill levels may find they move from place to place for short periods and do not have the time needed to complete each task.
Keeping volunteers engaged means rewarding with words, or actions reflecting appreciation for the work they do. Try to allow workers the time to complete one job before having them go on to another also makes volunteering more productive and less stressful.
People will volunteer for many reasons and they will benefit with better health, along with feeling good about the work accomplished. Keeping volunteers requires taking their feelings and needs for recognition in account. Making communities stronger and working with volunteers to achieve that goal works the best when everyone understands the importance of their contribution.