Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.
Giving Back: 7 Surprising Reasons to Volunteer
Your work schedule is crazy and free time is hard to find — so why start volunteering now? Here are some reasons you might not have considered.
November 1, 2007
There are lots of things we want to do and should do, yet never seem to find the time to actually do. Volunteering shouldn’t be one of those things. Why? Besides providing much-needed help to people or organizations that need it most, volunteering can open the door to new business opportunities, friends, skills, and appreciation for the everyday things you take for granted. Most of all, it can make you happy.
“There’s no better feeling than knowing you had a hand in improving someone’s life,” says Brae Hanson, managing broker of Starck, REALTORS®, in Barrington, Ill., and an avid volunteer.
So before you say you don’t have the time or energy to take on a volunteering task, consider these seven reasons why you should start giving back now.
Reason #1: It Will Boost Your Visibility (for Free)
Volunteer to benefit your business? That doesn’t sound very altruistic. And while that probably shouldn’t be the primary reason to volunteer, it’s certainly a nice perk.
“Real estate professionals always want to be doing more selling and prospecting, but many don’t realize they can do both of those things while giving back to the community,” says Robert Rosenthal, a spokesperson for VolunteerMatch, a San Francisco nonprofit that matches volunteers with charitable groups.
Cappy MacPherson, a salesperson with Watson Realty Corp, Hidden Hills, Jacksonville, Fla., says volunteering is one of her best — and lowest cost — marketing tools. Instead of spending money to get her name out in the community, she gains exposure by volunteering with local charities, including HabiJax, the Jacksonville Habitat for Humanity branch.
At ever volunteer job, she wears T-shirts promoting previous volunteer events, along with a name tag that identifies her real estate business.
The strategy acts as a conversation starter and gets her name circulating in the community. Since 2006 it’s landed her four buyers and generated leads for two potential listings. “These are six prospects I would never have had,” she says. “It’s a wonderful way to market without breaking the bank.”
Reason #2: You’ll Sharpen Your Business Skills
With so many volunteer opportunities out there, you can select the ones that will help you improve certain business skills.
For example, Hanson, of Barrington, Ill., has perfected her marketing skills through 20-plus years of fundraising and promoting charities. Volunteering also has forced her to refine her time-management skills and has given her more financial know-how.
“I’ve never been fond of reading financial statements, but I’ve gotten better at budgeting and understanding profit and loss statements just from reviewing them for charities,” she says.
MacPherson, meanwhile, has improved her knowledge of home-improvement tasks — knowledge that comes in very handy when working with buyers and sellers. Through her Habitat for Humanity work, she’s learned the finer points of painting, roofing, and caulking, as well as an understanding of how buildings come together properly.
“I’m now able to see subtle problems in houses and know when to suggest further inspections,” she says.
Reason #3: It Doesn’t Require a Huge Time Commitment
If you read the stories of this year’s five Good Neighbor Award winners, you’ll be taken aback by how much time they devote to their causes. For a rookie volunteer, it can be downright intimidating. But such a large time commitment isn’t necessary.
Start small by volunteering for a one-time event or scheduling just a couple hours per week. Check out volunteer opportunities in your ZIP code by searching on Web sites such as VolunteerMatch. Each listing includes the estimated time contribution required, so you can be choosey about which jobs you take on.
Another option: Take a volunteer “vacation” to a developing nation or to a city in the United States to build a new school, restore the environment, or help on a medical mission. You can learn more about volunteer vacations at Web sites such as GlobeAware or CharityGuide.org.
Or, volunteer from the comfort of your own home. Instead of watching an hour of TV at night, log in an hour of virtual help to an organization of your choice. Learn about virtual volunteer opportunities at ServiceLeader.org.
Once you find a volunteer job that you really enjoy, making time for it will come naturally, Hanson says. “When something is important to you, you find the drive to get it done.”
Reason #4: Make Meaningful Community Connections
Weekly Rotary Club meetings put Lisa L. Bass, president and broker of California Commercial Corp. in Brentwood, Calif., and president of her local Rotary Club, in touch with local businesspeople and city council representatives.
Through in-person conversations and club projects, she built meaningful relationships in her community that could never have been made via e-mail or phone. Some recent Rotary activities have included donating dictionaries to local school kids and providing wheelchairs to people in Mexico.
When fellow Rotary Club members have commercial real estate needs, Bass is their go-to person. But she says the biggest benefit of volunteering is the pick-me-up she gets from doing good things. “The meetings give me purpose that I look forward to, especially when I’ve had a difficult week,” says Bass.
In today’s high-tech age, “it’s hard to feel connected on a deeply meaningful level,” says Rosenthal, from VolunteerMatch. “Volunteering is an opportunity to connect with others who share a similar cause.”
Reason #5: It's Time to Expand Your Professional Horizons
In the early 1990s, Saul Klein, E-Pro®, GRI, owned a real estate brokerage, property management firm, and a financial-planning business, yet he was becoming increasingly interested in finding a new avenue for his real estate skills.
At the same time, through his volunteer work with the San Diego Association of REALTORS®, including a post as president of the group, he uncovered a zeal for emerging real estate technologies. He used his newfound passion as a launching pad for the next chapter of his career.
Klein now educates other real estate professionals on how to use technology, does speaking engagements around the country, has written real estate courses and books on technology, and is a founder of InternetCrusade, a San Diego company that manages the e-Pro® designation for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.
“Volunteering really has paid me back,” Klein says. “I love being able to take a message to people that I believe is valuable and that will make differences in their lives. It’s very rewarding when people tell me my advice is valuable.”
Volunteering can do the same for you; perhaps it will open the door to a new business niche or help you uncover a new path for your real estate career. You also can use volunteer opportunities to learn about a business specialty. For example, if you specialize in waterfront properties and you want to learn more about the issues that local residents face, volunteer with a beach clean-up organization. Or, if your aim is to develop a niche selling green property, consider volunteering at an environmental awareness group. There, you can learn more about the movement and meet prospects interested in environmentally sound homes.
Reason #6: You’ll Appreciate What You Have
Life seems tough when you don’t have an iPhone or you can’t afford to hit Starbucks every morning. But when you see firsthand how families live without heat, electricity, or indoor plumbing, you might feel a little better about your present situation.
Sean Waters, a salesperson with Gibson Sotheby's International Realty Boston, Mass., says he’s witnessed such living conditions for the first time during a “magical and enriching” volunteer vacation to Cuzco, Peru, earlier this year. There, he rehabbed an orphanage and taught children English and baseball.
Despite lacking many comforts that Americans take for granted, Waters was amazed to see that Peruvians live happy lives with an intense love for and focus on family and friends. That realization sparked changes in Waters’ life when he returned home. He now makes more of an effort to spend quality time with his loved ones. “We work so hard, yet we’re lacking so much in terms of having time for each other,” says Waters.
The trip also served as a business motivator. Waters recognized that he needs to ramp up production to finance more service trips (next up is India) and to visit out-of-state relatives.
The other business benefit: Waters says the experience broadened his world view and will help him better connect with some of his sophisticated, well-traveled clients. At the very least, travel talk beats the weather as a topic for chit-chat.
Reason #7: You’ll Feel So Good About It
A growing body of research links volunteering with better health. One study, The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, by the Corporation for National and Community Service, says volunteering improves longevity, lowers depression rates, and reduces the rates of heart disease.
Indeed, many volunteers cite a phenomenon commonly called, “helper’s high,” in which they gain feelings of exhilaration and energy from volunteering. MacPherson says she likens the feeling she gets from volunteering to the endorphin rush after a workout.
Hanson agrees. She says her post-volunteering highs frequently last five days and translate into greater enthusiasm for her work and life in general.
“Happier people live longer, and happier people are going to sell more real estate than grumpy ones,” MacPherson says.
The research evidence pleases, but doesn’t surprise, Rosenthal. “You don’t need scientific validation for people to know that the world needs them,” he says.
Updated: August 11, 2020