The Benefits of Volunteering in Retirement

Discover why volunteering in retirement can be beneficial and how making a difference for others can help retirees live a more fulfilled and purposeful life.

An older woman is helping a young girl gardening.

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Giving back to the community is always important no matter what age you are, but it can be especially impactful when retirees redefine their role, purpose, and productivity in retirement.

Retirement can be a time of personal reevaluation and discovering new opportunities. According to the Stanford Center on Longevity, the most common reason Americans don't volunteer is a lack of free time and having too many commitments that interfere with volunteer activities.1^Stanford Center on Longevity, Amy Yotopoulos: "Three Reasons Why People Don't Volunteer, And What Can Be Done About It," 2022

With retirement often comes a change in routine and adapting to life without a work schedule. It can free up the time that’s needed to commit to volunteering. Giving back can also transform the person who is doing the volunteer work. A 2021 study concluded that volunteering resulted in a more positive perception on aging and in turn also led to fewer depressive symptoms and more perceived happiness.2^National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Volunteering, Self-Perceptions of Aging, and Mental Health in Later Life," September, 2021

The Health Benefits of Volunteering

While volunteering makes an impact in communities and can improve the lives of others, it can also make an impact on health and potentially address some health care concerns. A recent study shows, it doesn’t have to be a large number of hours devoted to volunteering to impact health. A research article in the American Journal for Preventative Medicine exhibits that a cohort of U.S. adults aged 50 or older, who volunteered for just 100 hours during the whole year, showed “lower depressive symptoms and [lower] risk of mortality."3^American Journal of Preventative Medicine: "Volunteering and Subsequent Health and Well-Being in Older Adults: An Outcome-Wide Longitudinal Approach," June, 2020

Staying healthy is often the key to enjoying retirement. Health care is a major concern for retirees, especially when it comes to retirement income. Roughly 70% of those in retirement or in the pre-retirement stage, said they worry about increasing health care costs and the impact of long-term care, specifically.4^Insured Retirement Institute/American Equity: "Aligning Retirement Expectations with Financial Resources," 2022The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that 65-year-old households, on average, can expect to pay $67,000 out-of-pocket over their remaining lifetime in health care related costs.5^Center for Retirement Research at Boston College: "How Much Do Retirees Spend on Uncertain Health Costs?" August, 2022

But it’s not just physical health, it’s your mental and emotional health too. By finding causes and activities that matter and empower retirees to continue to make a difference in their lives, they are likely to experience reduced stress, anger, and anxiety. Volunteering can lead to feeling accomplished and validated, despite having exited their careers.6^National Alliance on Mental Illness: "How Volunteering Improves Mental Health," February, 2022 Staying engaged and continuing to use some of the skills that might have helped during a specific career, volunteering can also lead to cognitive benefits. Numbers show, as retirees volunteer, their cognitive skills improve, versus those who do not volunteer. The reason is simple. Volunteering can be an all-encompassing activity that often involves moving around, talking to people, and planning –  stimulating a multitude of senses all needed to support mental well-being.7^The Wall Street Journal, Demetria Gallegos: "Research Finds Volunteering Can Be Good for Your Health," April, 2018

The Social Benefits of Volunteering

Many career paths involve daily interactions with co-workers or clients. While focused on work, they provide a social outlet to share updates on life and potentially take part in activities. Once retired, many retirees miss the social interaction in the office and even run the risk of isolating themselves if they didn’t establish friendships that went beyond their place of work. This is where volunteering can help make a difference.

Being active with different groups and people helps keep social skills sharp. Most volunteer opportunities are never the same and they offer the chance to interact with people from different walks of life. The possibility of branching out, finding new friends, and building new contacts is increased.

Volunteering can provide a sense of purpose that can potentially protect against losing that sense of identity. Studies have suggested that volunteering can be a crucial “meaning-making” and identity-forming experience that helps retirees understand themselves better and increase well-being.8^University of Pennsylvania, Allison R. Russell: "Volunteering In Retirement And Retirement From Volunteering: Three Papers On Volunteering In Older Adulthood," 2019

How to Volunteer in Retirement

Finding volunteer opportunities can be as easy as looking around in your neighborhood to see if there are any organizations that might need help. Some schools also frequently need volunteers to work with students or help with tasks around the school. If you don’t know where to start, here are a couple of ideas.

National Park Service

The National Park Service offers many individual and group volunteer opportunities through its Volunteer-In-Parks (VIP) program. 

You can volunteer as a one-time service project or sign on for a long-term position. This is an opportunity to share your talents, as well as acquire some new skills. It also promotes an active lifestyle, personal fitness and can offer a social outlet.

United Way

Retirement is a great time to find out how your passions and interests can help contribute to your community. It can also be an opportunity for you to try a new experience. United Way has a database where you can find ways to commit your time either seasonally or on an ongoing basis.

There are approximately 1,100 local United Ways around the world, and you can find your local organization here

AmeriCorps Seniors

Maintaining social connections is a vital part of a healthy retirement lifestyle. AmeriCorps Seniors, which is a division through the Corporation for National and Community Service, offers programs for those who are age 55 and older. 

They provide various services, including tutoring and mentoring students, assisting and caring for the elderly and supporting relief teams when disasters strike.

What to Consider

No matter how you decide to volunteer, being retired can offer that free time needed to make a difference. Keep these pointers in mind when you decide to volunteer.

  • Organizational Match: Does the opportunity align with your values and what you want to do?
  • Time Commitment: How much time do you have to spend to get involved?
  • Transportation: Can you get to where you need to be on a regular basis?
  • Comfort level: Choose an opportunity where you feel comfortable and appreciated. Keep location and setting in mind, and if you are comfortable with large groups.


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