For many years the portion of our population that volunteered was the highest in the wealthy nations of the world. That is no longer true.
Before COVID, about one in four Americans formally volunteered, more women than men, with “boomers” (those aged 58 – 76) leading the way.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused a major unrecognized crisis – 1% of volunteer organizations in the US ceased to exist, and 23% temporarily paused operations. One of the main reasons was the loss of volunteers. The work these generous people used to do ranged from sweeping floors at schools to being an unpaid senior staff member of organizations like Goodwill or Salvation Army which have annual budgets in the millions of dollars.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics analyzed the jobs these volunteers do and found that if they had been paid, the cost to the organization would average $28.54 an hour.  When you volunteer, your contribution is more valuable than you realize.
The second crisis in America is an explosion of family, friends, and neighbors who are experiencing mental health issues. A review by Boston University School of Public Health researchers found that rates of depression in the United States tripled from 9 percent to 29 percent during the early months of the pandemic and then continued to rise to 33 percent—affecting one in three Americans—by 2021. The rate has continued to rise.
It turns out that we can repair our own mental health while preserving those not-for-profit organizations which do such badly needed good work because people who volunteer report significant improvement in emotional issues.
Another surprising reward of volunteering is that you are also likely to wind up with a better-paid job that suits your special personality and skills!
There are several ways to measure how “good” a job is for you. One is how much money you make coupled with such things as how often you have to be away from home for days or how much vacation you get. The other is how happy you are when working. I call the happiness benefit the “Psychic Paycheck”.
It is possible to be well-paid in dollars and be miserable. That is a LOW “Psychic Paycheck” job.
When you choose a place to volunteer, and a particular job, you are usually looking for a situation with a high “Psychic Paycheck” You would not volunteer to do something that made you feel miserable. When you show up to the volunteer role you designed, you will be surrounded by people who have the same values as you do, and who want to do the same kind of work. Take this example: You are an unhappy truck driver, away from home a lot, and spend many hours in traffic, every day, all day. You are also a handyman. You start volunteering at Habitat for Humanity to build houses for the needy two days a month. Who do you meet? Other skilled builders who share your values – and when they see your skills, they invite you to come work for their firm, maybe introduce you to their boss, and you show her your good recommendation from Habitat. Life gets better.
People who’ve been unemployed and begin to volunteer are 27% more likely to find work. That’s especially true for unemployed volunteers without a high school diploma, who are 51% more likely than non-volunteers to find a job. So by volunteering you help disadvantaged families, your “Psychic Paycheck” will go up, you help yourself, and your mental stress will go down.
It is Christmas – a time of traditional gift-giving. Time is a gift. There are many organizations trying to rescue folks from all sorts of terrible circumstances. You can help by signing up to volunteer. The State of North Carolina has an office that helps potential volunteers connect with organizations and movements that badly need staff. You can investigate your possibilities by googling Volunteer NC.gov. 
It is Christmas time in our bruised and battered country. As you gather with family and friends, you may give a major gift to them by chatting about volunteering. You may increase the amount of help available to those less fortunate, help your family and friends, and oh-by-the-way help yourself.
Authored by Francis Koster Ed. D