The Importance of Giving Back: Mitigating the Pitfalls & Maximizing the Benefits of Volunteer Work

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As we get older and consider the wisdom and blessings that life has bestowed upon us, the importance of giving back to a community in need is often magnified, and many turn to volunteer work for a sense of purpose and meaning.

    The best way to overcome barriers to volunteering is to find opportunities that are a good match, not only with regard to your interests and passions, but also in terms of your lifestyle.  

-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark

But volunteer work is not only good medicine for the soul; it’s also extremely good for your health.     

Benefits of Volunteer Work

Here are just a few of the many benefits of volunteer work in later life:    

  • Longer life span
  • Reduced stress levels
  • More active lifestyle
  • Lower likelihood of disability
  • Fewer negative emotions
  • Greater well-being

READ RELATED: Can Your Life Calling Be Harmful? The 3 Dark Sides of Having Passion for Work

Barriers to Volunteering

Despite these many benefits, volunteer work isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. We have good intentions but somehow barriers get in the way. Some of the most commonly reported barriers include:

  • Not having enough time
  • Health problems and physical limitations
  • Waning interest in the cause
  • Dissatisfaction with the volunteer opportunity (e.g., due to disorganization or lack of appreciation)

READ RELATED: Living Your Calling When You’re Stuck in a Dead End Job

Making It Work

The best way to overcome these barriers is to find volunteer opportunities that are a good match, not only with regard to your interests and passions, but also in terms of your lifestyle.

Some factors to consider are:

  • What causes excite you the most?
  • Would you prefer to volunteer from home or out in the community?
  • Would a short- or long-term volunteer commitment work best for you?

Established non-profit organizations that coordinate these volunteer activities offer a wide variety of opportunities to accommodate people with busy schedules and other limitations.

To find opportunities in the U.S., check out Points of Light and the causes that it supports. Pioneers offers a useful search tool for finding volunteer work in the U.S. as well.  

For international options, Give a Day Global helps match people to volunteer opportunities all across the world, so even on your vacation you can devote one day of your trip to supporting a worthy community cause.

In the comments below, tell us about your experiences with volunteering. How did it enrich your life? What barriers did you encounter? How did you deal with them?     


Further Reading













Balandin, S., Llewellyn, G., Dew, A., Ballin, L., & Schneider, J. (2006). Older disabled workers’ perceptions of volunteering. Disability & Society, 21, 677-692.

Harris, A. H., & Thoresen, C. E. (2005). Volunteering is associated with delayed mortality in older people: Analysis of the longitudinal study of aging. Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 739-752.

Jenkinson, C. E., Dickens, A. P., Jones, K., Thompson-Coon, J., Taylor, R. S., Rogers, M., … & Richards, S. H. (2013). Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health, 13, 773.

Kahana, E., Bhatta, T., Lovegreen, L. D., Kahana, B., & Midlarsky, E. (2013). Altruism, helping, and volunteering: Pathways to well-being in late life. Journal of Aging and Health, 25, 159-187.

Konrath, S., Fuhrel-Forbis, A., Lou, A., & Brown, S. (2012). Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Health Psychology, 31, 87-96.

Mojza, E. J., Lorenz, C., Sonnentag, S., & Binnewies, C. (2010). Daily recovery experiences: The role of volunteer work during leisure time. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 15(1), 60-74.

Mojza, E. J., & Sonnentag, S. (2010). Does volunteer work during leisure time buffer negative effects of job stressors? A diary study. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 19, 231-252.

Mojza, E. J., Sonnentag, S., & Bornemann, C. (2011). Volunteer work as a valuable leisure‐time activity: A day‐level study on volunteer work, non‐work experiences, and well‐being at work. Journal of occupational and organizational psychology, 84(1), 123-152.

Morrow-Howell, N., Hinterlong, J., Rozario, P. A., & Tang, F. (2003). Effects of volunteering on the well-being of older adults. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 58, S137-S145.

Okun, M. A., Yeung, E. W., & Brown, S. (2013). Volunteering by older adults and risk of mortality: A meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging, 28, 564-577.

Yeung, J. W., Zhang, Z., & Kim, T. Y. (2018). Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: Cumulative effects and forms. BMC Public Health, 18, 8.


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