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Volunteerism at Work: The Power of Being in Service to Others


We started thinking about volunteerism at work after we organized our own team activities and found that it made us feel great, the data backs us up on it 

A few years ago, the Japanese concept of ikigai took off in America. Ikigai, which translates to “reason to live” in Japanese, is the idea that when you combine what you are good at, what you love, what you can be paid for and what the world needs, you have found your life’s purpose. 

If you are looking for the missing piece to your ikigai, volunteering can help you to fulfill it.

Look for volunteer opportunities:
Check out a list of Community Initiatives partner projects

“I have a favorite quote from Dr. Suess that informs my views on volunteerism: ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it is not,’” says Rula Adranly, Community Initiatives’ Human Resources Business Partner.

At Community Initiatives, we try to volunteer with our project partners as much as possible. We also find opportunities to volunteer with local nonprofits like Wardrobe for Opportunity, a nonprofit down the street from Community Initiatives’ Oakland office whose mission is to work in partnership with community organizations to assist low-income individuals in their efforts to “Find a Job, Keep a Job, and Build a Career.”

“It is easy to get wrapped up in your typical work day of getting to the office, cranking out work, and going home, and forget about the greater community you are working and living in,” says former Community Initiatives intern Anna Holm. “Wardrobe for Opportunity doesn’t just give out professional clothes to individuals, but also offer resume, interviewing, and career development assistance.”

We held an office-wide clothing drive and collected about 50 pieces of clothing that were delivered to Wardrobe in August. We returned a few weeks later to help them sort and steam new suits — all of which are tailored to their participants. Wardrobe for Opportunity has an extensive selection in its inventory of donated clothes. Stylists are on hand to make sure people walk out the door looking their best with a full week of clothing in hand.

“I felt good knowing that Wardrobe for Opportunity has so much to offer people in need and help them get back into the workforce,” says Cathy Nelson, Senior Payroll Administrator at Community Initiatives. “I was amazed at the large selection they had and caring people who work there.”

Volunteerism at work does not just provide purpose to us and our community, it has measurable health benefits. According to a 2013 study from UnitedHealth Group, 76 percent of people who volunteered the year prior said that volunteering made them feel healthier. Also, 81 percent of people surveyed said volunteering with coworkers strengthens their bond. 

“Volunteering through work is definitely excellent for team building and morale,” says Rula. “Staff get to know each other in different contexts and can make personal connections. From a human resources perspective, I personally like the idea of helping people get meaningful work, whether through mentorship, resume writing, mock interviews or dressing for success in the workplace.”

More than 70 percent of American employees found that volunteerism provides an improved sense of purpose, yet less than 40 percent of employees said their employers provide access to company-sponsored or coordinated volunteer programs, according to 2017 Deloitte Volunteerism Survey.  

The nonprofit sector thrives on volunteer work with more than two-fifths of public charities saying they rely on volunteers, according to the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics. Project partner San Francisco Dyke March, for instance, is 100 percent volunteer-run. 

“It felt good to know that we were helping in a concrete way to enable someone to succeed in the workplace,” says Rula. 

If you would like to donate clothes or volunteer, contact Belinda Mercado, Client and Volunteer Coordinator at Wardrobe for Opportunity at or at  510-463-4100 ext. 216.