Give back to the community and in the process give back to yourself

Volunteering benefits you too
group of people volunteering by putting cans in boxes
Courtesy of United Way

Volunteering doesn’t just help the communities and causes to which you’re giving your time, treasure or talent — it benefits you, too. Decades of research shows clear and measurable correlations between volunteering and health, including lowered stress and blood pressure and decreased risk of depression.

Anecdotally, most of us know it just feels good to give back. According to the United Way of Dane County’s 2018 Volunteer Engagement Plan, 76% of people who’ve volunteered in the past year say volunteering has made them feel healthier, 25% say it’s helped them manage a chronic illness and 94% report that it has improved their mood.

“There are so many benefits to volunteering. And so many nonprofits wouldn’t be able to do what they do without volunteers,” says Molly Meister, director of communications at United Way of Dane County, which plugs $20 million into Dane County each year across 100 local partner agencies. United Way itself is Dane County’s largest nonprofit, utilizing 1,200 internal volunteers each year across 65 volunteer committees. “United Way is really all about mobilizing the caring power of our community and asking folks to be champions for change,” Meister says. “What that means is encouraging people to give to a cause they care about, advocate for something they really believe in or volunteer.”

If you don’t know where to get started, sign up for one of the United Way’s quarterly Seasons of Caring events, which are large-scale volunteer mobilization efforts that engage nearly 3,500 volunteers each year. (Next up is Spring Into Action in April, a two-day event scheduled near National Volunteer Week, Global Youth Service Day and Earth Day; last year 800 volunteers took part.) Or suppose you’ve got two hours on a Saturday but don’t know where to start — that’s where United Way’s volunteeryourtime.org comes in. It’s essentially a job board. More than 300 Dane County nonprofits post their needs on the site, and volunteers can choose work opportunities based on filters such as time available, kid-friendliness or unique skill sets and interests.

“At the end of the day, we are just trying to plug people in, whether that be through us or connecting them to their passions and just being that convener,” says Meister. “We want people to feel good and do good because everyone is stronger when that happens.”

Visit volunteeryourtime.org to find the right opportunity for you.