“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

– Winston Churchill

There comes a time in between blood-orange mimosas, first dates, office parties, happy hours, music fest Instagram posts, quarterly reviews, color runs and weekend getaways where it’s natural to wonder if there’s a greater purpose you could be applying your energy toward.

Maybe you’re looking for stimulating work outside of your job, you want to use your skills for the greater good, you’re looking to gain knowledge in a particular field, or you simply feel called to help someone. Volunteering is the answer.

Consider taking on a low-obligation volunteer shift to get your feet wet. For example, a beach clean-up with your local alumni group or a shift at the neighborhood soup kitchen. Weigh your feelings afterwards: did you feel that you used your free time well? Did volunteering make you feel good?

Surely you’ll answer “yes” and hopefully you’re considering seeking out the perfect long-term volunteer opportunity. Here are 5 benefits of volunteering and ways it can change your life for the better:

1. It’s a great opportunity to network and meet quality people

You never know who you’ll meet when you partake in volunteer work. While preparing a Christmas dinner at GLIDE Memorial Church in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, I had the most amazing two-hour talk with a volunteer in his late sixties who had immigrated from Germany as a child. Amazing life advice was dispensed as I helped prepare Christmas dinner for deserving members of the community.

The best people to surround yourself with are the types who give back. It’s also a great opportunity to meet people outside of your usual social circle. You know that old adage about how getting out of your comfort zone helps you grow? It’s as applicable here as anywhere else.

Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – And How to Make the Most of Them Now, urges us millennials to reach out and cultivate “weak ties,” or people we’ve met but don’t know well. These ties often turn out to be the best connections we have to the things we wish to pursue.

In her book, she also writes, “Do something that adds value to who you are. Do something that’s an investment in who you might want to be next.”

Your next significant other, best friend, great job referral, sales lead, Kickstarter backer or mentor could be out there at the local 5k fundraiser or charity bake sale.

2. You’ll get closer to realizing your dream job

You can fill the gap between what you want and what you have through volunteer work. You can find a gig that will give you valuable experience in just about any field you desire.

If you’re dying to put those Youtube-learned Illustrator skills to use, consider volunteering your graphic design skills to kickstart a portfolio. The same goes for photography – volunteer your services to cover a giveaway or a gala! Photograph pets for a humane society, build a website, create a newsletter.

If your dream job is to work in mental health, volunteer at a crisis line. The opportunities are truly endless.

The Red Cross alone has opportunities in everything from event planning to grant writing to public relations. You’d be hard-pressed to find a skill that’s not ripe for the picking in the world of volunteering.

It’s just a great way to familiarize with the skills you need to wow the panel when you interview for your dream job.

3. It will dazzle up your resume

At a previous job, I became reacquainted with a nonprofit organization I’d heard about years before. The Princess Project works to provide prom dresses to underprivileged girls in high school. Now, I manage their Instagram and contribute to social strategy for my local chapter. As a Social Media Manager and Cinderella aficionado, this glass slipper fits perfectly to my interests and career field (sorry about the pun).

In return, I’ve gained valuable insights into how teens use social media – insights I hadn’t even realized I needed! I like to think of it as exercise for my skill set, and the social media knowledge will definitely come in handy for my future business endeavors.

4. It can be an outlet for your passion

Devoting yourself to a particular cause, whether it be animal welfare, the arts, literacy, the environment, or civil rights, helps you define who you are as a person and what your priorities are.

For example, if animal welfare is your passion, you can volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary or an animal shelter.

Passion for a cause is an extremely attractive quality, even if the hair net you’re wearing at the Salvation Army is not. It shows that you’re here to make a positive change in the world.

If your passion is art, spreading that passion by teaching art classes to disadvantaged youth allows you to share your love for it beyond the scope of your own life. Be the person who hands a paintbrush to someone and makes all the difference. Be the person who ignites a passion for art in someone else – perhaps someone who needed something to be passionate about!

5. You’ll gain a deeper sense of purpose

You’ll feel better tutoring a child to read and instilling them with the potential to discover fairytale stories and thrilling novels than you will being hungover on a weekend. Trust me on that one.

When you feel good on the inside, the life that you’ve wished for yourself starts to look more attainable. Plus, you never know what life lessons could be in store for you. An hour’s conversation with a stranger in a senior home could lead to more insight on life and all its little quirks than you’d gain in an entire year on your own.

When you give back, you feel good about yourself and develop self-love. This leads to a greater happiness from within, a better sense of self-worth and more self-confidence. The result? You’ll radiate on the inside and the outside.

If you’re interested in taking the first step towards finding the perfect volunteer opportunity, check out CharityNavigator.org. It identifies the best-rated charities close to you, broken down by category, while offering useful information about each one’s finances and long-term record. Now that you’ve come to realize all the benefits of volunteering, the next step is to choose the perfect type of volunteer work for you.

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