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Cynder Sinclair: Improve Your Health and Happiness — Volunteer For a Nonprofit Today

A lot has changed since President Nixon created the first National Volunteer Week in 1974 and volunteering is on the rise.

Since 1989, the number of people who volunteer has increased by 60 percent. Older Americans from the Baby Boom generation are 40 percent more likely to volunteer than the same age groups were in 1989. 

April is National Volunteer Month.

This year for Volunteer Month, consider signing up as a volunteer at your favorite nonprofit. With over 2,000 nonprofits in Santa Barbara County, you can be sure to find just the right ones to inspire your efforts.

The first page of a quick Google search today for volunteer opportunities in Santa Barbara included: American Red Cross, Hospice of Santa Barbara, Food Bank of Santa Barbara County, Outdoor Volunteers, Santa Barbara Zoo, County of Santa Barbara, Volunteer Match, CADA, and Alpha Resource Center. 

Volunteering abundantly benefits those who are being helped. But did you know that there are actually some surprising benefits of volunteering for you as the volunteer?

As a volunteer, you connect more easily with other people and have a greater impact on your community. Volunteering provides a pathway to improved health by allowing people to interact more, meet new people, and expand their network.

When you volunteer, not only does it make your ties to the community stronger, you also meet people who share your interests and gain a wider support group.  You also get to practice and develop your social skills more by being exposed constantly to other people.

Improve your mental health through volunteering.

Volunteering also benefits your mental health by increasing your self-confidence, self-esteem, and even develops a more positive outlook on life. Because you are doing something good for the community, you feel a sense of accomplishment and take pride in what you’ve done. This additional confidence and self-esteem will enable you to face life head-on. Also, the more you feel good about yourself, the more positive your perspective will be on your dreams, goals, and even life in general. For those who are feeling depressed, volunteering can help you fight against it. Since you are constantly working with others, you are never alone and you are also gaining a broader and more solid support group. This enables you to manage and get through any of those tough times.

Physical benefits of volunteering abound.

In addition to the mental health benefits of volunteering, there is also a benefit to your physical health. Volunteering allows you to be constantly going about, keeps you busy, and highly active. Research has shown that volunteers have a lower mortality rate compared to those who choose not to.

Also, in some cases, volunteering was able to aid in reducing the symptoms of some illnesses such as chronic pain and heart disease.

Volunteering can even benefit your career.

Other benefits of volunteering include advancement of your career through experience and development of skills. Those who want to enter a new career can use volunteering to enable them to gain experience in the field as well as meet people whom he or she may likely end up working with.

Volunteering also allows you to develop and practice skills often utilized in the workplace such as planning projects, problem solving, critical thinking, time management, organization, communication, and teamwork.

For those who are thinking about changing their career, volunteering enables you to try out a new field without having to make it a long term thing. You get to experience working in the field and should you find it to your liking, you may already have met several key people that could help you start out.

If you change your mind, you can simply stop and still be able to use the experience as part of your resume.

Since Santa Barbara has the second highest per capita of nonprofits of any county in California, we have plenty of opportunities to volunteer for whatever causes peek our interest. 

Volunteers provide critical resources to our community.

According to a new report from Independent Sector, the estimated average value of a volunteer hour was $22.14 in 2012. The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group releases a dollar estimate of the value of volunteer hours every year as a way to acknowledge the work of volunteers across the country.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 64.3 million Americans volunteered in 2011, its highest level in five years. These individuals gave approximately 7.9 billion hours of service time worth $171 billion. 

There are certainly many benefits to volunteering. The beauty of it all is that while you are helping others, you are also actually helping yourself.

— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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