Why Do People Volunteer? Why Volunteering Matters

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Minimalism" by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Why do people volunteer? What are the benefits of it, and why is it important to try to volunteer?

Personal growth feels great but reaching outward to contribute to others also is necessary for a balanced life. Humans have a built-in need to contribute beyond themselves. Moreover, the more you help others grow, the more you grow in turn.

People often decide to write a check to charity because they don’t have time to volunteer for an activity. But the personal contact and satisfaction you receive from doing a hands-on task are more rewarding than writing a check.

There are unlimited ways to contribute. Whatever way you choose to contribute is fine — all contributions have value. 

Joshua and Ryan contribute locally through hands-on projects with Habitat for Humanity, soup kitchens, and charitable organizations. They’ve also used their website to raise money for development projects around the world.

So why do people volunteer? You’ll feel a level of satisfaction you don’t experience in other areas of your life.

How to Start Volunteering

Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Visit the website volunteermatch.org to see which organizations are looking for help.
  • Explore different organizations until you find the one that’s right for you.
  • Serve in a variety of ways, so you don’t get bored and lose motivation.
  • Start your own thing. Some people come up with their own unique means of contributing. Joshua and Ryan created their website to share what they’d learned about life. However, if you’re thinking of starting your own thing, it’s useful to spend time volunteering for local organizations first to learn how you can best help.

Besides volunteering for a particular organization, you can find small ways to contribute in many of your current activities. For example, you can mentor others at work. The important thing is to do something that adds value to others’ lives.

So whatever you’re doing after figuring out why people volunteer, ask yourself how the task adds value. The question helps you identify how you’re contributing. If you’re not contributing, consider how you could add value to the situation, or how you could add better value.

Over time you’ll start to replace things that don’t add value to your life or other people’s lives with things that do add value.

Unless you contribute beyond yourself, your life will be perpetually self-serving. It’s OK to serve your own interests, but doing so exclusively creates an empty existence. A life without contributing to others is a life without meaning.

Why Do People Volunteer? Why Volunteering Matters

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Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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