Words: Kirby McLaine

When there’s so much to gain personally from giving back, can the act ever really be considered completely selfless?

If there’s one thing that’s stuck with me from Year 11 psychology, it’s the doubt some psychologists cast on the existence of “true altruism”. Altruistic acts often bring a sense of pride, an expectation of reciprocity or even the alleviation of the guilt you might otherwise feel if you do nothing, not to mention the effects some professionals believe it has on anxiety. 
At The Conscience Organisation, we’re big believers in contributing to the community. The sense of purpose and the impact that comes with working with a range of partners such as For Goodness Sake and OzHarvest - that’s what drives us to hit the snooze button one less time, stay back that extra hour or try even harder than usual to find the best solution for our partners.

We’re in it for the difference it makes to our community, but yeah, it feels pretty great too. But we’re happy for the notion of true altruism to take a hit as long as we’ve got that first part ticked off. Need a bit more of a reason to give up your free time for the greater good? There are far more benefits than you probably realise.

Economic benefits
By donating your time, being a volunteer means providing a service or product that would usually come at a much higher cost or not be provided at all. That’s pretty powerful stuff on its own, but gets even more impressive when you actually look at the numbers.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that the 4.6 million (yep, million) volunteers in 2006-07 gave 623 million hours of their time, which is equivalent to 317,200 full-time staff and $14.6 billion worth of work (FYI, that's equivalent of Zimbabwe’s *entire* economy and then some). Though no recent figures have officially been released, Dr Lisel O’Dwyer from University of Adelaide estimated formal volunteering was worth $25.4 billion to the economy in 2010.

Skill development
Working on a project or contributing to a program outside of your nine-to-five is a great way to develop new skills or gain more experience in the ones you already have. Use the opportunities to get ahead in your career or just learn something a bit different, like leading a choir, helping med students as a simulated patient or answering phones for a national helpline.

Social networks
Meeting others with the same interests and values is often the start of strong friendships or professional connections – a no-brainer, really. Getting insights into new perspectives from people with different backgrounds will help smash down your echo chamber.

Community contribution
Okay, so we said we were going to give other reasons, but as the backbone of giving back, the effect on local communities will always be a key reason to get involved. Find a cause you really believe in and give it your all. If you happen to feel good about yourself at the end, that’s because you deserve to.      

Image: iStock by Getty Images

Tom Murray