Volunteering is a great thing to do for your community. Many organisations that do great things for society are built on volunteers. These organisation cover all sorts of sectors: from aged care and disabilities, education, sport and recreation to the environment. All these organisations and their volunteers are valuable. Australians are generous with their time […]
A healthy body and active mind are key goals for seniors as they head into retirement. After all, they have worked hard and now is the time to slow down and enjoy life. It’s time to do the things they have always wanted, like drive around Australia, spend more time seeing grandkids or taking up […]
Volunteering has a wide range of benefits that can affect many aspects of our lives. Although when we think of volunteering we may think of social and mental health benefits, it can also benefit us physically and cognitively.
The type of physical benefit depends on the type of volunteering you do and whether it is self-orientated or other-orientated (1).
• Self-orientated volunteering can provide more direct physical benefits
• Other-orientated volunteering impacts mental and social well-being which leads to physical benefits
Self-orientated volunteering is often driven by desires for self-enhancement and self-actualization (1). These volunteering roles will involve more physical, cultural and career activities and can be found in cultural/recreation, environment, law/politics and business/professional services sectors (1).
Other-orientated volunteering is motivated by altruistic and humanitarian ideals that inspire people to help others (1). It enhances interpersonal relationships, supportive networks, sense of making a difference and meaning in life (1). These roles can be found in the health, education, religious groups, human services and youth development sectors (1).
Although on the face of it, it may seem like self-orientated volunteering may maximise physical health for participants, the health benefits of other-orientated volunteering cannot be discounted (1). Increased social wellbeing is one of the main benefits of other-orientated volunteering. Research shows it can lead to a multitude of other health improving effects. Volunteering has been shown to help with (2):
• family functioning (2),
• social support and interaction (2),
• psychological distress (2),
• satisfaction and quality of life(2),
• physical activity(2)
• dementia (2)
Volunteering has been shown to increase memory and executive functioning and can therefore help prevent dementia onset. Executive functions are important aspects of people’s cognitive ability as it enables them to exert self-control, pay attention, enhance working memory and cognitive flexibility, such as thinking outside the box (3). In particular, greater improvements with cognitive dysfunction have been shown through tests such as task switching, verbal learning and memory as well as cognitive control tests in those who volunteer compared with non-volunteers (2).
The reduced risk of dementia has been quantified at 2.44 times (4). Volunteering needs to be regular, with at least one hour per week for benefits to materialize (4). The exact mechanism of how volunteering reduces the risk of dementia is still being debated by experts (2). However, some theories conclude that volunteering leads to social and cognitive benefits by providing the structure and social interaction that retirees had during their career (4). Another important aspect is that feeling appreciated amplifies the physical and cognitive benefits of volunteering. (5)
The physical benefits of volunteering are persuasive, particularly for older adults. The benefits are 2.5 times greater for those over 60 years old then for younger people. The increased physical activity in their daily lives led to a wide range of health benefits such as (6):
• less hypertension (6)
• fewer hip fractures (6)
• lower frequency of hospitalization (2)
• ability to cope with their own illnesses (2)
• adoption of healthy lifestyle and drinking practices (2)
• greater ability to carry out activities for daily living (2)
One of the most important benefits is a reduction in the mortality rate. Volunteering is associated with a 24% reduction in mortality risk for older adults, even when adjusted for 11 other variables, such as socio-demographic, economic, lifestyle and physical and mental health factors that may affect mortality (6). Volunteers often report increased social wellbeing and interaction, delivering many benefits (7). The social wellbeing effects of volunteering have even been found to buffer the effects of stressful life events on mortality over a 6 year period (6).
Volunteering can deliver a multitude of benefits, many that until recently we did not understand or know about. It is now evident that volunteering is good for not just the mind but the body as well, particularly for older people. Volunteering is not just great for the community but also for the volunteer. If you would like to experience the health benefits and maybe live a little longer, you can start your volunteering story today by visiting https://www.vnq.org.au/volunteer/ to search for roles that suit you and your interests.
(1) Yeung, J., Zhang, Z., & Kim, T. (2017). Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: cumulative effects and forms. BMC Public Health, 18(1). doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4561-8
(2) Casiday, R., Kinsman, E., Fisher, C., & Bambra, C. (2019). Volunteering and Health: What Impact Does It Really Have?. Volunteering England.
(3) Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions. Annual Review Of Psychology, 64(1), 135-168. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-113011-143750
(4) Volunteering can reduce dementia risk in seniors, study finds. (2019). Retrieved 28 August 2019, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-05-volunteering-dementia-seniors.html
(5) McMUNN, A., NAZROO, J., WAHRENDORF, M., BREEZE, E., & ZANINOTTO, P. (2009). Participation in socially-productive activities, reciprocity and wellbeing in later life: baseline results in England. Ageing And Society, 29(5), 765-782. doi: 10.1017/s0144686x08008350
(6) Anderson, N. D., Damianakis, T., Kröger, E., Wagner, L. M., Dawson, D. R., Binns, M. A.,
Bernstein, S., Caspi, E., Cook, S. L., & The BRAVO Team (2014, August 25). The Benefits
Associated With Volunteering Among Seniors: A Critical Review and Recommendations for
Future Research. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037610
(7) Jenkinson, C., Dickens, A., Jones, K., Thompson-Coon, J., Taylor, R., & Rogers, M. et al. (2013). Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health, 13(1). doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-773
“By following these tips, you will find it much easier to discover the perfect volunteer opportunity.”
Volunteering can be a great and fulfilling experience. It can provide just as much value to you as the volunteer as to the organisation. However, it is not always easy to find the perfect opportunity with an organisation that matches your availability, ability and goals. Here are some tips on getting the most out of your volunteering experience.
Find a cause you are passionate about
Volunteering for a cause you are passionate about will help you stick to it in the long term and will help you get the most out of the experience. If you are not sure where to start, short-term volunteering at multiple organisations can help you find what you are passionate about.
Ask yourself, “What are my goals and interests?”
Knowing what you want to get out of volunteering and being able to communicate that to the organisation will enable you to get the most out of it.
Do you want to try something new or stick to what is familiar? Trying something new, gaining new skills and experiences can be some of the biggest benefits of volunteering. It is always a good idea to consider this.
What is my comfort zone? Do I want my experience to stay within my comfort zone or should I expand my horizons? Volunteering can be one of the best ways to expand your horizons and gain new skills. You can try new experiences by doing things you do not normally do at work or home.
Do I want to make a difference locally or more further afield?
Additionally, these questions will also be useful to finding the perfect opportunity.
What are the skills I can bring to the organisation? These skills can be from work or from other social clubs you belong to.
How much time can I commit?
Communicate with your volunteer organisation
It is important to make sure the role is a good match for you. Tell the organisation what your goals and interests are, so they can help you achieve them. Do your research on the organisation, find out what their mission is to see how your goals fit with theirs and ask lots of questions before you start.
Make sure you know what to expect and that your expectations are realistic
It is important to know what the organisation expects of you and to make sure you do not over commit. Consider starting small and increase your commitment as your confidence and abilities grow. This also give you the ability to change your focus as you discover what you do and don’t enjoy.
Do not be afraid to make a change
If things are not working out, do not force yourself into a role you do not like. Volunteering is time willingly given. Talk to the organisation about your role, they may have something more suitable.
Make sure you are having fun. It is important that you are getting something out of it as well. If you are not enjoying it, it is important to be reflective about why. Do you find the tasks unenjoyable or not what you thought they would be? Or is working with people more difficult then you thought? Or is it simply because you are in a new situation. Knowing why you are not enjoying it will help you decide how to proceed.
By following these tips, you will find it much easier to discover the perfect volunteer opportunity.
There are many not-for-profits from large organisations to small local groups looking for new volunteers to joint their team. They look for people from all walks of life calling for many different skills. No organisation can reach every potential volunteer and similarly volunteers could easily be daunted by searching all the not-for-profit organisation offering opportunities. Volunteering North Queensland can help make finding the right opportunity easier for volunteers. We have a large not-for-profit membership base with a diverse range of volunteer opportunities available. Our personalised help match your skills and interests to a great opportunity.
Want to know what volunteers have experienced and the benefits they gained from volunteering? Check out their stories on our Newsfeed.
If you would like to start your volunteer story, search for opportunities at www.vnq.org.au/volunteer/ or make an appointment to talk to one of our friendly Recruitment Officer volunteers in the office or by phone.
Many volunteers passionately give their time and quickly put their hand up to say “Yes!” The word “No” however, isn’t heard enough! The more yes’s there are, the smaller that yes becomes until it is stretched so wide, that it lacks any depth of commitment. A yes that is meaningful is followed by a lot of No’s. For example, the Yes made between two people at marriage is a powerful commitment of love that is kept by a No to all others.
Unfortunately, “Yes” is too often the answer from generous volunteers when it should have been “No”. It’s all too easy to overestimate your capacity, keep others happy or be caught up in the busyness of achievement.
When volunteering your time and skills, your “Yes” is enriched by learning the art of saying “No!”
(No, not right now) “I can do that if it can it can be done later?”
(No thank-you) “That is a great idea. Unfortunately, I am already fully committed.”
(No, not me) “We need to do that. Who else has the availability and ability to do it?”
Volunteer burnout is something that both volunteers and volunteer managers dread. For volunteers, it can be a feeling of overwhelming stress that causes resentment about volunteering. For managers, it can turn the most productive volunteer into an irritable and ineffective member of the team. It is important for the volunteer and organisations to understand, identify and help volunteers cope with the stress to prevent volunteer burnout.
Volunteering can be a stressful activity, with 35% of people in Australia’s not for profit sector experiencing stress (1). What makes volunteering stressful is not just the work itself, such as witnessing trauma or experiencing intense workloads, but how the workload adds to the day to day stresses of life. In rural Western Australia, two-thirds of people volunteering additionally have a business to run, farms to work or young families (2). Burnout can happen to anyone, so it is important for volunteers and managers to know the signs and what to do.
Burnout can be defined as a state of chronic stress. Stress is a natural response to the challenges we face (3). When stressed, our alertness, energy and productivity increases along with our heart rate, metabolism and breathing rate (3). Stress is helpful during short-term challenges however when experienced long term, it can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment and feelings of ineffectiveness.
Signs of Burnout
Physical/emotional exhaustion Cynicism and detachment Feeling ineffective
• Chronic fatigue
• Increased illnesses
• Loss of appetite
• Anger • Loss of enjoyment
• Isolation • Lack of productivity
• Feeling of apathy
• Feeling of hopelessness
• Increased irritability
Table 1: Sufferers may experience any number of these symptoms over a period of time and should seek advice for diagnosis. Modified from source 4.
These symptoms can easily be confused with depression. From a psychological perspective, there is no clear definition of what burnout is and psychologists are likely to diagnose sufferers with something else such as depression or anxiety (5). This makes it difficult to collect data on the prevalence of burnout in society (5).
Although burnout is still an area of dispute in psychology, the fact that volunteers are vulnerable to it is not. Volunteers in rural communities where the social fabrics’ of the community are made of the volunteer groups can be particularly susceptible to burnout (2). They are essential to the communities’ social, education, sporting, cultural and environmental groups and activities (2). They can also be critical to the running of essential services. In small towns like Ongerup in Western Australia, the only health service is a volunteer run local ambulance (6). Without the volunteer ambulance service in the town, it would take an hour for an ambulance from the nearest town to come (6). Being the only health service in a town is a huge responsibility, especially for a volunteer.
Being in a stressful volunteer role can be just one source of stress for volunteers but others could include poor management, conflict with other volunteers, competing demands such as work and family as well as role overload and even pressure from friends and family to volunteer (7). Role overload can also result from poor communication, unrealistic expectations of volunteers, failure to match volunteers’ skills to positions, ineffective role definitions and lack of boundaries. (7).
Role overload is one of the most quoted sources of stress. Role overload can be taking on too much responsibility or too many hours (7). It can be caused as said above, by poor management, but also by volunteers deliberately going beyond the role description or volunteers not telling management they cannot meet the role’s demands (7). Role ambiguity can further lead to role overload as volunteers are unclear what their role is.
Competing demands can also be a significant cause of stress. This stress is similar to role overload however the source of the increased work and stress comes external to the role (7). An example would be family illness, financial stress, or work commitments affect a person’s ability and availability to volunteer.
There are many ways to combat burnout and some of the best methods are organisational factors that volunteer managers can implement (7). One of the best ways to prevent burnout is early recognition and intervention (7). It is important that volunteer managers have time, as well as policy and procedures in place to monitor their volunteers and implement changes (7). Monitoring volunteers can include having a time sheet so it is known how many hours they contribute; this information can be used to observe volunteering milestones that they can be thanked for (8). Letting volunteers vary their hours, take time off or have ‘annual leave’ is also a great way to help volunteers’ recharge and cope with stress (8).
A prevention strategy that volunteer managers can utilise is providing adequate volunteer training and providing mentors for newer volunteers to reduce the stress experienced as a new volunteer (7). This strategy additionally ensures good succussion planning and can relieve excess workload in the role. It is not just essential that volunteer managers are able to see the early signs of burnout, take action but also fosters the organisational culture of open communication with volunteers to talk about stress in and outside of the role (7).
Knowing how to implement the theory of how to manage and prevent burnout can be a steep learning curve for volunteer managers but volunteer managers’ have great capacity to manage burnout when they have knowledge and strategies. Networking with other Volunteer Managers provides a great opportunity to both learn and share with others in similar situations. Check out https://www.vnq.org.au/training/ where you can find details of networking and training events for volunteer managers.