Volunteering holds many benefits; it can help you make friends, give back to those in need, improve your wellbeing, and form deep connections with your wider community. However, did you know that volunteering can also play a role in developing the soft skills needed for success within the workplace and help advance your career?

What is Volunteering?

Volunteering is commonly defined as ‘any time willingly given, either formally or informally, for the common good and without financial gain.’ There are many different types of volunteering opportunities available for people to get involved with, such as conservation projects, foodbanks, animal rescue, mentoring programmes, and much more. Offering to volunteer does not mean you have to give up all your spare time – it could be just a day a week or even a couple of hours that you set aside to make a difference!

Why volunteer?

Improve your mental and physical health: Getting involved with volunteering can contribute significantly to improvements in both mental and physical health. For example, volunteering can help reduce stress levels, improve low mood and isolation, and provides a sense of purpose by giving back to a positive cause – all of which can be supportive towards our mental wellbeing! Many voluntary roles also require volunteers to be active, outdoors, and on their feet. These physical and environmental factors are also beneficial when promoting better physical health and overall wellness.

Make friends and connect with like-minded people: Voluntary experiences offer great opportunities to meet new people and form meaningful relationships within our communities. Indeed, recent research has found that volunteering can play a massive role in shaping friendships in later life, improving feelings of social connectivity, loneliness, and friendship quality. By working alongside others who share our interests and values, we can create an environment that supports the development of lasting friendships and our wider social network. Having these shared values and working to making a difference alongside others can help build a more connected community by strengthening our communal ties, facilitating conversations across diverse groups of people, and through fostering a greater sense of belonging.

Skills development & career growth: Taking part in volunteering is a powerful tool when looking to develop your professional skills and gain experience. Off-site projects with voluntary organisations can open up many opportunities for learning and skills development, such as improving leadership skills, communication, project management, and teamwork. Volunteering is also a fantastic way to build up confidence in the workplace, expand your network, and explore wider interests. Gaining new skills and experiences that are transferable to the workplace is a key reason participating in voluntary activities can be so valuable in terms of career advancement and professional development.

How can companies and their teams get involved with voluntary opportunities?

Despite its benefits, there are many obstacles that deter people from getting involved with volunteering. Lack of awareness of opportunities, uncertainty about how to get involved, and time constraints can impact people’s ability to engage actively with volunteering. Workplaces can play a crucial role in encouraging and accommodating participation in voluntary work. More companies are starting to recognize the importance of voluntary work for their staff and are offering incentives such as flexible hours, partnerships with charities or community organisations, voluntary team building activities, and paid volunteering hours.

At Sussex Innovation, the team has been participating in a trial of the 4-day working week, but with a twist – we give one Friday a month to a good cause! The team has been using the On Hand app to find new opportunities to make a difference and to track their progress. On Hand is a great resource for corporate volunteering as it offers easy and measurable ways for employees and employers to connect with voluntary and sustainability focused opportunities.

The Sussex Innovation team have been tracking their positive actions and getting involved with opportunities such as coral reef research, charity and foodbank donations, and wider sustainability initiatives. Here is what some of our team had to say about what volunteering means to them:

Flora Heisz (Bookkeeper and Payroll Administrator): “We’re thrilled to participate our company’s fantastic initiative that lets employees volunteer one Friday each month during work hours, highlighting our deep commitment to community and social responsibility. This incredible programme empowers us to make a meaningful impact while boosting team spirit and purpose among our amazing staff!”

Joseph Bradfield (Marketing Communications Advisor):  “I’ve always found it really rewarding to support charities and community projects, but finding time to fit it in around everything else can be a challenge. It’s great that we’re encouraged to dedicate time to volunteering for causes that we care about – not only is supporting social causes like food banks and conservation work the right thing to do, I’ve found that it can also have a positive impact on your personal mindset and wellbeing.”

Maria Bedoya (Programmes Manager): “Volunteering has always been part of my life. The reason is quite simple: spending the day immersed in activities with purpose filles me with profound joy and a deep sense of empowerment and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and hope. For me, each day we spent as volunteers symbolises a small but significant step towards something bigger. This experience is a powerful reminder of the importance of giving more and doing more, more about the important and meaningful.”

Georgia Holliday (Junior Marketing Consultant): “I really value the fact we are given time to volunteer at Sussex Innovation! Finding the time to take part in voluntary opportunities has sometimes been quite difficult and the fact we are actively encouraged to take time to support the causes we are passionate about and bring forward new ideas for the team is really special. I have recently started volunteering at the SEA Climate hub and it has been rewarding so far!”

Eve Banks (Research & Insights Coordinator): “Volunteering is, and has been, a personal and rewarding journey for me. It’s my way of giving back to society, whatever form that may take, and offers up a sense of purpose no matter how small or insignificant you might think it might be. Volunteering keeps me grounded, opens my eyes to the world around me, and continues to be a humbling experience.”

Giving Back for Good

Overall, volunteering provides significant benefits – from personal development to strengthening wider social connectivity across our communities. By addressing common obstacles to volunteering and embracing the value behind giving back to others, individuals and companies can more easily engage in volunteering activities and help foster a culture of kindness.

If you want to find out more information about making the most of volunteering opportunities within your organisation or need support setting up volunteering programs, contact us here.