February 27, 2024

When we help others, give generously or do good deeds, we are contributing to healthier communities and having a positive impact on society.

But we are not only making a difference to others; people who carry out these acts of kindness regularly are better off, both physically and mentally.

When you help someone or give a gift or donation, your brain secretes feel-good chemicals including serotonin (which regulates your mood), dopamine (which gives a sense of pleasure) and oxytocin (which creates feelings of connection with others.)

It can also reduce your levels of cortisol, which is the stress hormone that can make us feel overwhelmed or anxious.

Additionally, generosity has been shown to lower blood pressure.

Studies show that people who have volunteered throughout their lifetime typically live longer and have better psychological wellbeing.

On top of the health benefits, volunteering gives people a sense of purpose. It’s also a great way to meet new people, get to know your community and learn new skills that will look good on your resume.

We know many of you are already contributing where you can – our schools, sports clubs and community groups wouldn’t survive without amazing volunteer support. But if you haven’t found the right activity yet or you want to try something new, make 2024 the year you tap into the fulfilling feeling that comes from giving back and contributing to society.

How can I help?

When it comes to giving service to others, there are hundreds of ways to help. You just have to find the one that fits in with your life and the things you love.

If you are time poor because you have a demanding job or a busy family life, you might find it easier to donate money or goods you no longer need.

If you are not in a financial position that allows you to donate money, you can volunteer your time and skills to help others.

Here are a few ideas that might give you some thoughts on how to get started:

Make a donation
If you can afford to, you may wish to set up a regular monthly donation to a charity of your choice. Having income they can rely on each month makes it easier for charities to budget. But money is not the only thing you can donate. Do you have clothes sitting in your drawers or wardrobe you rarely wear? There are many people who would be grateful to have them. Consider a local charity store, Salvation Army or Women’s Refuge. Dress for Success, a charity set up to help women find and keep work, is always looking for good quality casual and work clothes.

With prices continuing to rise at the checkout, many New Zealanders need some help to feed their families. Consider donating to a food bank – some supermarkets provide bins you can place items in. You can donate any household essentials including breakfast cereals, canned goods and spreads, tea and coffee, rice and pasta through to non-food products such as soap, toothpaste, shampoo and sanitary products.

If you have food you don’t need or excess fruit or vegetables in your garden, consider popping it in your local community pantry. People often set these up near community centres or public halls or reserves. If you are part of your neighbourhood Facebook group, ask if there any near you. If not, consider setting one up.

Sharing your time and skills with people or groups who need support is very rewarding and the possibilities are endless. It could be as simple as being parent help at school or coach\manager for your children’s sports activities or you may wish to put your hand up to help with a community garden or an environmental project.

If you have more time to give, you could consider roles such as becoming a volunteer firefighter, helping St John’s provide first aid at community events or supporting ambulance crew at 111 calls, working with Civil Defence or helping out at Citizens Advice Bureau. The NZ Cancer Society is always looking for volunteers to drive patients to appointments and treatment, help out in their accommodation centres or bake for patients and accommodation guests.

The Volunteering New Zealand website is great place to find opportunities in your local area.

This is another fantastic way to pass on your skills and knowledge, in either a personal or professional capacity. You may choose to mentor a young person just starting out in your industry or someone from an ethnic or gender minority that might be finding it tough to progress up the career ladder.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of New Zealand offers community-based mentoring programmes designed to support young people to thrive. They offer training and match mentors with young people, operating in 14 regions around New Zealand.

Give the gift of life
Did you know that people who give blood can save up to three lives with one donation. The New Zealand Blood Service is crying out for more volunteers to donate blood, plasma or platelets – across the 2023/24 summer, the team needed to fill 32,000 donor appointments to meet demand. Restrictions preventing those who lived in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and France between 1980 and 1996 for a period of six months or more from donating were recently lifted so you could be part of group of newly eligible donors. Head to the website to find out if you are eligible.

Think local
According to the famous saying, charity begins at home. Life has been difficult for many of us in the past few years and resilience levels are low. There are bound to be people in your street or neighbourhood who could use some support or a kind gesture. Could you walk the dog for a busy mum who is struggling to juggle family life, or make a meal for a family dealing with illness or an elderly neighbour who doesn’t have a nearby support network? Could you give a married couple the chance of rare night out by offering to babysit?

Organise a fundraiser
Harness the power of numbers – if a lot of people donate, even a little bit each, it soon adds up. Join up with friends or your colleagues at work to raise money for a good cause. You could run a raffle, organise a quiz night, have a bake sale or get sponsored to do a walking, running or cycling challenge.

Clean up your community
We can all contribute to making New Zealand a nicer place to live, whether that’s just picking up litter from our paths and roads during your regular walks or joining an organised clean up activity. Environmental groups regularly hold coastal or beach clean ups or you and your family can adopt a local park or reserve and help to keep it litter free. It’s a great way to teach the young people in your family to care for the environment.

Stand for office
Running local councils, school boards, liquor licencing trusts or regional sports or arts organisations can be a thankless task but someone has to do it. If you have great people skills or business experience that you could use to help community organisations prosper, consider standing for election.

Start a sponsorship
Sadly, many people in New Zealand, particularly young people, don’t get the same opportunities as others to participate in sport, cultural or arts activities due to financial constraints. If you own a business, you could consider sponsoring a local team or school or youth group wanting to take part in a competition, tournament or learning opportunity – it’s a great way to get your brand in front of a new audience. If sponsoring a group is out of your reach, approach your local school or sporting or arts organisation to see if there is one child at risk of missing out that you could support financially. You can do this anonymously if you prefer.

These are just some of the ways you can give back to the community – there are hundreds more. Take the plunge and bask in the glow of a job well done.