In a world where the market is key, volunteerism is sending a clear and joyful message to the system. Since it’s absolutely free, it flies below the GDP’s radar – which doesn’t want to track it anyways! – and is filtering through every layer of society. Its enthusiasts find enjoyment, comfort and say that it brings meaning to their lives. Volunteerism is universal and has been around forever, but interest has been renewed over the past few years.
Incidentally, there seems to be a growing interest on the part of businesses for their employee’s volunteer activities. More and more companies are donating a few hours a year as a way of encouraging employees to volunteer for a charity or non-profit organization. This is a new approach to corporate responsibility. Obviously, there will always be objections by shareholders - or members, in the case of a cooperative - to paying for time in which employees are involved in volunteer activities. But that would be underestimating the positive effects this type of exercise can have on the company.
Today, not a single manager would dare question the importance of training in making a company successful. And even beyond training, there is education, and how people think and behave that can significantly influence a company’s operations. Therefore, the money that is invested in volunteer time should be considered an investment in education, because the ensuing experience is always enlightening. Volunteering helps open the mind to new discoveries, to meeting new people, to different types of interactions.
In 2000, according to a Canadian survey conducted with volunteers, 79% of respondents believed that their volunteer activities helped improve their interpersonal skills, especially their ability to understand and motivate others, and address delicate or sensitive situations. This is a concrete example of the significant educational value of volunteering. Corporations have much to gain when they encourage their employees to join volunteer activities!
What about the effects of volunteering on one’s health? When we’re busy helping others, we set aside our own needs, we seek to be useful and productive, to serve the people to whom we are donating our time. Volunteerism draws on feelings of empathy and generosity. In fact, researchers at the University of Harvard discovered that devoting oneself to others increases the efficiency of the body’s immune system, reduces blood pressure and slows the heart. That’s a pretty good corporate program for disease prevention!
But there’s more: It is said that volunteering leads to happiness. In the world of volunteers, there’s an often used expression - “helper’s high” - it translates the sense of contentment felt when giving help and assisting others. They say that it’s a biochemical reaction. It’s hormonal! Will anyone dare to stand up and refute that happy employees are more productive?
Essentially, volunteerism, for the person giving as much as for the person receiving, is a good thing and it’s free! And for employers, it’s a good thing and…all things considered, inexpensive. We should be pleased with corporations developing an interest in the volunteer activities of their employees. Especially in the case of cooperatives: What a perfect alignment of values and testament to coherence. Mutual help, altruism and solidarity, qualities required of volunteerism, are also the basic and fundamental values of the cooperative ethic. Moreover, volunteerism constitutes an amazing program to defy individualism. To volunteer is to reject indifference, to acknowledge the other person’s value and each other’s accountability. It is the actualization of cooperative values in their most noble and prized incarnation. In other words, it’s another way of learning about cooperation.