It’s official: altruism is good for your health, your happiness and your career. Whether you’re raising a Guide Dog puppy, campaigning for asylum seekers or welcoming new students, helping others means helping yourself. But between work, uni, family and, you know, having a life, how does anyone find the time?
James Alvarez came to La Trobe through the Aspire program and is now midway through his Bachelor of Business.
‘Aspire is an early admissions program based on alternative assessment,’ he says. ‘That alternative assessment is basically community engagement.’
Community engagement is volunteer work in any kind of community. ‘So school leadership programs and fundraising,’ says Alvarez. ‘And we also have partnerships with the Duke of Edinburgh, St John’s Ambulance and the CFA.’
Choose wisely and be realistic
‘You need to make sure you don’t overload yourself,’ says Alvarez. ‘Meet your own needs first, then you can help others with theirs.’
During high school, he chose community engagement projects that suited his schedule and study workload. ‘I hosted award nights and, with some friends, organised a fundraiser for the Royal Children’s Hospital that raised over $1000.’
The fundraiser was a big job but Alvarez and his friends pulled it off with organisation, pre-planning and delegation.
A little is better than nothing at all
Regan Carr volunteers as a mentor in La Trobe’s Career Ready Mentoring program. This program matches students with mentors who can, he says, ‘impart knowledge and share experiences to get them ready for the workplace.’ He graduated from La Trobe with a degree in business and marketing and now mentors two students in marketing and international business.
Carr agrees that it can be tough to find the time to volunteer. Sometimes he and his mentees have to postpone their catch-ups because everyone’s busy with other commitments. ‘But we still manage to communicate which is important,’ he says. ‘If you can reach out to people and give them a little bit of information it’s better than doing nothing at all.’
What you gain by giving back
‘The biggest thing I learnt from volunteering was working with other people, being part of a team, and being a team leader,’ says Alvarez. ‘It’s also great to have on your resume,’ he says. ‘It shows that you’re proactive and the kind of person who’ll go out of their way to help others.’
The job market is highly competitive so you want to give yourself every opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Building teamwork and leadership skills through volunteering can help you become more employable.
For Carr, volunteering as a mentor to university students gives him a new perspective on his work.
‘I’m 50,’ he says, ‘so the way I view business is from a 50-year-old’s point of view. Having people in their 20s share their experiences and views helps me understand their perspective. It’s a win-win.’
Top tips for giving back if you’re short on time
If you love the idea of volunteering, but can’t commit a big chunk of time, there are ways to give back without overloading your schedule. Here are our top tips:
If you’re time poor, donating to charities can be a good way to lend a hand. Just make sure you read their guidelines and follow their instructions so you’re not lumping them with goods they don’t want or need. Donate clothes to your local op shop, books to Indigenous children or your unwanted car to help prevent homelessness. If you’re eligible, donate blood via the Australian Red Cross Blood Service.
Volunteering can now be done from the comfort of your living room. All you need is a computer and the internet. Online or virtual volunteering is flexible so you can squeeze it around your other commitments. It also gives you the opportunity to work on international and/or remote projects while you’re studying. Transcribe historical manuscripts, research or translate for the UN or write a letter to a child from a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to do that?
Volunteer through work
Some workplaces, particularly larger ones, run their own volunteer programs for staff. Ask HR or your manager about opportunities to give back to the community as part of your work responsibilities.
Just do it
Make sure you pick volunteer work that you find enjoyable – you’ll be more likely to stick with it if you get a kick out of it. And it doesn’t hurt to choose something that relates to your career goals and aspirations.
Once you’ve settled on the volunteer work that best suits you, ‘just do it,’ says Alvarez. ‘Pass it on and give back.’ Not only will you be doing good in the world, you’ll be honing your skills and gaining valuable life and work experiences.
Carr is similarly enthusiastic. ‘Go for it,’ he says. ‘It’s a win-win. It makes you feel good.’
‘That’s what we should be striving for as a whole community,’ says Alvarez. ‘Helping one another.’
Get in to giving back with our leadership and volunteering opportunities.