The Power of Volunteering

Posted on Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Written by Barbara Robbins, Community Life Manager, Family Housing & West Residence

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A wide variety of organizations and associations rely heavily on volunteers to support their efforts.  Data collected through Statistics Canada, Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CGSVP) found that 47% of Canadians aged 15 and over provided volunteer work in 2010.  What motivates almost ½ of our population aged 15 and over to give of themselves, their skills and abilities, and their time?  Why is there power in volunteering?


Saisan, Smith and Kemp (2015) note that “one of the better known benefits of volunteering is the impact on the community”.  When we volunteer we are connecting with our community and with people who have similar interests.  Our social network may expand, thus decreasing any sense of loneliness or isolation.  Data collected in the Statistics Canada, Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, 2010 indicates that 93% of volunteers are motivated by their desire to contribute to their community.  Additionally, 78% wanted to make good use of their skills and abilities, 59% volunteered for an organization because they had been personally affected by the cause and 48% volunteered because friends were involved in the same organization.  Recognizing that almost all volunteers want to contribute to their community, highlighting contributions of your volunteers may boost your organization’s recruitment strategies.

Improve Skills/Advance Career

Many people will volunteer to enhance a skill or to add to their resume.  They may be considering a career change and will become involved in their area of interest at a volunteer level to connect with others in the field.  By volunteering, it allows a person to ‘try on’ a new career without the stress of leaving a job or starting a job that you are not prepared for.  If you are interested in crisis management, volunteering with a crisis line can provide you with a sampling of what a job in that field might be like, and how successful you might be at it.  If the field turns out to be not what you expected, you can simply try another volunteer position at a different type of organization until you find the right fit. 

Improve Physical and Mental Health

There is much research to support the theory that volunteering improves both physical and mental health.   Wilson and Musick (1999) argue that “volunteering lowers the risk of physical ill-health because it boosts the social psychological factors that healthy people have.”  It would seem to make sense that volunteering could improve mental health by providing the volunteer with the opportunity to contribute to a common purpose.  Volunteering can also provide the volunteer with a network of individuals thus reducing the isolation that can accompany mental health illness, as Wilson and Musick (1999) stated.   A person looking to improve their physical and/or mental health may choose to volunteer, they may also be recommended to volunteer by their health practitioner or counsellor.  Volunteering, whether  formal or informal, can assist with stress reduction, provide a sense of purpose and aid in lessening symptoms of depression.  The sense of belonging that can accompany a fulfilling volunteer experience should not be discounted.  While improvement in physical and mental health is a research supported result of volunteering, it’s interesting to note that in the Statistics Canada, Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, 2010, reasons for volunteering as identified by those surveyed did not include improving health. 

Once an organization can understand and appreciate what motivated their volunteer to offer their time and service, the organization can better meet the needs of the volunteer.  A happy, contented and valued volunteer is more likely to stay with an organization than a volunteer who feels that they are not really needed.

Many organizations rely heavily on volunteers.  The volume of work performed by volunteers in Canada in 2010 was equivalent to over one million full-time jobs,. (Vézina, M. & Crompton, S. (2012).  Volunteering in Canada. Statistics Canada).  With such a staggering number of hours of volunteer service it is evident that our organizations would not exist without the commitment and dedication of their volunteers.  The power of volunteering goes far beyond what the organization gets or why the volunteer offers their time – the power of volunteering suggests that our society would not be able to support each other as we do without volunteers.  Volunteering can be a win-win situation, with the organization ‘winning’ by meeting their service goals with the additional help and ideas that volunteers provide, and the volunteer ‘wins’ by increased emotional wellbeing and the sense of useful contributions and sense of belonging that volunteers can achieve. 

When we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the need for a sense of belonging allows a foundation for the needs of self-esteem, confidence and self-actualization.  Don’t discount what you can offer a volunteer.  Don’t discount what volunteering can offer you.


“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi




Saisan, J., Smith, M., & Kemp, G. (2015). Volunteering and its surprising benefits. Help Guide.

Thoits, P. A., & Hewitt, L. N. (2001). Volunteer work and well-being. Journal of health and social behavior, 115-131..

Vézina, M., & Crompton, S. (2012). Volunteering in Canada. Statistics Canada.

Wilson, J., & Musick, M. (1999). The effects of volunteering on the volunteer. Law and contemporary problems62(4), 141-168.

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