Thinglass / Shutterstock.com

October 21, 2013;UnitedHealth Group


It’s no secret within the nonprofit sector that volunteers are often the difference between “make” and “break,” the special sauce that keeps an organization moving forward, delivering against its mission, serving its constituents. From hands-on volunteers to skills-based volunteers to the volunteer leaders who serve on boards, it’s almost impossible to calculate the value that those who give back add to the sector. So it’s nice to know that those who volunteer benefit from the experience as well.

A national survey of 3,351 adults conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of UnitedHealth Group demonstrates that volunteering is good for your health. Here are some of the takeaways from this research:

  • Volunteers say they feel better—physically, mentally and emotionally—than non-volunteers
  • Volunteering helps people manage and lower stress levels
  • Volunteers feel a deeper connection to communities and others
  • Volunteers are more informed healthcare consumers and are more engaged and involved in taking care of their own health

If you work with volunteers—or if you are one yourself—those first three points are probably not very surprising. The fourth is perhaps a bit unexpected, but the report includes some interesting data around this topic, including people who report that volunteering helps them cope with a chronic illness and/or helps them take their minds off their own problems. Survey respondents who volunteer scored better than those that don’t on nine well-established measures of emotional well-being.

Volunteering is also good for business. Employers reap benefits when they hire people who volunteer, in part because these healthier, less-stressed employees drive healthcare costs down and productivity up. Importantly, volunteering also teaches people skills and reinforces behaviors that can make them far more valuable in the workplace, including:

  • Time management
  • Stronger relationships with colleagues
  • People and teamwork skills
  • Professional job skills

Companies that encourage and sponsor volunteer activities are also likely to engender goodwill and loyalty among employees. And of the employed volunteers in the survey who volunteered through their workplace, 81% agreed that volunteering together strengthens relationships among colleagues.

The survey suggests that nationally, more than half of all employees have volunteered. At UnitedHealth Group, 81 percent of employees and 96 percent of executives volunteered last year, so they clearly believe in the benefits—both tangible and intangible—of having employees engaged in their communities.

This is nice news to report during National Pro Bono Week, which celebrates the contributions of professional groups that incorporate pro bono service into their ethics guidelines. And it follows a report published back in June that shows that volunteering is good for the heart—quite literally.

So thank a volunteer today for all the good they do. And know that all that good they do is probably doing some good for them, too.—Eileen Cunniffe