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Benefits of Volunteering
Elaine Tilka Miller, PhD RN CRRN FAHA FAAN

Volunteers are individuals who are willing to give their time, energy, and talents to assist others in achieving a common purpose or goal. Moreover, volunteers are a precious form of social capital—eager to serve, looking beyond themselves to help others, and frequently inspiring others to join their efforts. Despite difficult economic times, the number of Americans volunteering grew last year at the fastest rate in 6 years to 63.4 million American adults—nearly 27% of our population (Blum, 2010). In the past 12 months there has been a significant increase in volunteer rates among women ages 45 to 54 and married women and a nearly 2% increase in African-American women volunteers. Moreover, in 2009 volunteers donated 8.1 billion hours of service valued at nearly $169 billion (U.S. Census Bureau for Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010).

ARN offers great volunteer opportunities for all of our members (new and old) to serve in various capacities (e.g., leader in a local ARN chapter, officer at the national level, abstract reviewer, conference session moderator, health policy committee member, chapter support committee member, manuscript reviewer for Rehabilitation Nursing, etc.). The possibilities to volunteer in ARN are numerous, and I encourage you to explore these opportunities at our website (www.rehabnurse.org), with your local ARN chapter, or at our 2011 Annual Educational Conference. Some of the more obvious incentives of volunteering with ARN are a sense of achievement, professional growth, recognition and feedback for your ARN contributions, and the opportunity to participate in advancing rehabilitation nursing, networking with colleagues, establishing friendships, and experiencing a feeling of belonging. Another important dividend is being able to increase the visibility and contributions of rehabilitation nursing in other interdisciplinary professional organizations. For me, being an active member in ARN has been a real blessing and allowed me to meet and work with talented rehabilitation nurses. Volunteering has also energized me and cultivated a renewed sense of purpose. In particular, ARN members are an important force in the current turbulent healthcare delivery system and public policy arenas.

The literature provides strong evidence that volunteering provides not just social benefits, but positive health benefits as well. The report “The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research” (2007) describes a significant connection between volunteering and health. This report ¨indicates that volunteers have a greater longevity, better functional ability, lower rates of depression in later life, and less incidence of heart disease. Besides improved physical and mental health, volunteers ranging from young to older adults tend to have greater life satisfaction and quality of life (Li & Ferraro, 2006; Parkinson, Warburton, Sibbritt, & Byles, 2010). Evidence also indicates that volunteering has a positive effect on other social psychological factors such as personal sense of purpose and accomplishment and enhancing social networks to buffer stress and reduce disease risk (Greenfield & Marks, 2004; Herzog, Franks, Markus, & Holmberg, 1998). Other researchers (Arnstein, Vidal, Well-Federman, Morgan, & Caudill, 2002; Sullivan & Sullivan, 1997) found that when individuals with chronic or serious illnesses volunteered, they received benefits beyond what can be achieved through medical care. However, when considering the relationship of the frequency of volunteering to improved health benefits, researchers have identified a “volunteering threshold” for health benefits. After this threshold (i.e., volunteering in two or more organizations, volunteering more than 100 hours/year) is achieved, no additional health benefits occur (Lum & Lightfoot, 2005; Luoh & Herzog, 2002).

Should you consider volunteering and sharing your time and talents? Based on the evidence, it appears that volunteering has many more benefits than risks as long as you do not exceed the “volunteering threshold.” I know that ARN is always seeking energetic and talented members who want to become more involved in the organization. The benefits definitely outweigh the disadvantages.


Arnstein, P., Vidal, M., Well-Federman, C., Morgan, B., & Caudill M. (2002). From chronic pain patient to peer: Benefits and risks of volunteering. Pain Management Nurses, 3(3), 94–103.

Blum, D. E. (2010). Volunteerism increases at highest rate in 6 years. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, June 15. Retrieved March 1, 2011, from http://philanthropy.com/article/Volunteerism-Increases-at/65949/.

Corporation for National Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development. (2007). The health benefits of volunteering: A review of recent research. Washington, DC: Author.

Greenfield, E. A., & Marks, N. F. (2004). Formal volunteering as a protective factor for older adults’ psychological well-being. Journals of Gerontology, Series B, 59(5), S258–S264.

Herzog, A. R., Franks, M. M., Markus, H. R., & Holmberg, D. (1998). Activities and well-being in older age: Effects of self-concept and educational attainment. Psychology and Aging, 13(2), 179–185.

Li, Y., & Ferraro, K. F. (2006). Volunteering in middle and later life: Is health a benefit, barrier or both? Social Forces, 85(1), 497–519.

Lum, T. Y., & Lightfoot, E. (2005). The effects of volunteering on the physical and mental health of older people. Research on Aging, 27(1), 31–55.

Luoh, M-C., & Herzog, A. R. (2002). Individual consequences of volunteer and paid work in old age: Health and mortality. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43(4), 490–509.

Parkinson, L., Warburton, J., Sibbritt, D., & Byles, J. (2010). Volunteering and older women: Psycholosocial and health predictors of participation. Aging Mental Health, 14(8), 917–927.

Sullivan, G. B., & Sullivan, M. J. (1997). Promoting wellness in cardiac rehabilitation: Exploring the role of altruism. Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, 11(3), 43–52.

U.S. Census Bureau for Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010). Volunteering in the United States. Retrieved March 1, 2011, from www.bls.gov/news.release/volun.nr0.htm.