Why do we volunteer?

Different people do it for different reasons–from developing new skills and building their knowledge to helping communities in need and advancing a cause dear to them. Volunteering takes a variety of forms and it includes mentoring, administrative work, teaching, the arts, events, corporate volunteering, humanitarian work-related volunteering, and so on.  A society which supports and encourages different forms of volunteering is likely to be a society which also promotes the well-being of its citizens. Volunteerism is a basic expression of human relationships. It is about people’s need to participate in their societies and to feel that they matter to others. According to many organizations today, the ethos of volunteerism is infused with values such as solidarity, reciprocity, mutual trust, belonging and empowerment, all of which contribute significantly to quality of life. In the corporate world, volunteering is so powerful that is increasingly seen as a major driver of employee engagement programs, amongst which precisely employee volunteering which helps instil purpose in employees and drives better employee performance.

According to the United Nations Volunteers, more than 1 billion people volunteer globally and the majority of them serving in their own countries, with many in the forefront of efforts to improve the way they and their fellow citizens are governed and engaged. In fact, volunteers are playing a vital role in making governments worldwide more accountable and responsive to their citizens. They are working with governments and civil society to hold those in power to account and to represent the voices of those who are often left out of development decisions such as women, youth and marginalized groups. The end result is more inclusive –and ultimately more effective– development.  We strongly believe that the social relationships intrinsic to volunteer work are critical to individual and community well-being.

The celebration of volunteerism, and all the good things that come with it, comes to life in a week-long manifestation in the United States and Canada in mid-April every year where volunteers and volunteering activities are acknowledged, celebrated, and shared. President Richard Nixon established National Volunteer Week with an executive order in 1974, as a way to recognize and celebrate the efforts of volunteers. Every sitting U.S. president since Nixon has issued a proclamation during National Volunteer Week, although I have not been able to find one for the current U.S. President for this year. Since then, the original emphasis on celebration has widened; the week has become a nationwide effort to urge people to get out and volunteer in their communities. Every April, charities, hospitals, and communities recognize volunteers and foster a culture of service.

Happy National Volunteer Week! Keep on volunteering.


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