Depressed by the downturn? Worried about layoffs? Unemployed? Underemployed? VOLUNTEER!

We’re hearing a lot in the news about how bad things are for corporate America.  Personally, I’ve got nothing against corporate America and I’ve got great hopes for a recovery – the sooner the better.  But, I also know that  the situation is far bleaker in the non-profit world, and there’s no bail-out in sight for these organizations, many of which provide critical community services. Non-profits who were the beneficiaries of financial support from foundations and grants are finding out the money just isn’t there this year. In fact, on average, foundations have experienced at least a 40% decline in their portfolios, leaving them with far less money to give away. Corporate giving has nearly disappeared. Not surprisingly, individual donations have declined as well. Even worse, non-profits that were strong and thriving a year ago have found their own endowments decimated by declines in the stock market. These agencies are often short-handed even in good times, yet many of them provide the glue that holds things together for the least fortunate among us.

So what does that have to do with you? Of course, you can’t just pull out your checkbook and make it all better. But what you can do is VOLUNTEER.

Look around your community. Who needs help? What skills do you have that could serve others while you’re looking for work? In Jewish tradition we’re commanded to do Tikkun Olam, or to look for ways to improve our world. How can you improve your world and the world of those around you?

Perhaps you’re asking “Why should I?” or even “What’s in it for me?” Questions worth answering in my view, so here you go:

  1. Volunteering for a needy cause can give you a valuable perspective on your own situation.
  2. Volunteering can be a great way to build new skills, or take on responsibilities you would not otherwise be given. For example, you could help with publicity, public relations, bookkeeping, or program development, building skills that will help you advance your career.  Volunteer work doesn’t just look good on a resume, it tells people you’ll get involved and you want to make a difference.
  3. Volunteering can give you access to people who can help your career. Look at the list of boards of directors for the major charities in your area. These are often influential people at the height of their profession. Working beside them on a project or a program can be a great learning experience and help you build a valuable network.
  4. Volunteering is a wonderful social outlet and a great way to meet people with whom you share common interests.
  5. Volunteering is good for you. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research has found a significant connection between volunteering and good health. The report shows that volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease. The report is available at

Things may seem bleak right now, but this is a great time to look away from your personal fears and consider how you can make a difference in the lives of others.  You and your community will be better off for it.