Important new review highlights the many benefits of volunteering

Nichol, B., Wilson, R., Rodrigues, A., & Haighton, C. (2023). Exploring the effects of volunteering on the social, mental, and physical health and well-being of volunteers: An umbrella review. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 35, 97-128.


Formal mentoring programs are mainly characterized as volunteering interventions. Volunteering is recognized for its potential benefits not only to organizations and recipients but also to the volunteers themselves. This umbrella review aimed to synthesize the evidence on the social, mental, and physical health benefits of volunteering and explore potential enhancers of these benefits.


An umbrella review was conducted to overview findings from articles examining the multifaceted benefits of volunteering on volunteers’ social, mental, and physical health.  Twenty-eight reviews were included, predominantly featuring older adults in the USA.

Key Findings

Key benefits identified across social, mental, and physical health domains include:

  • Reduced Mortality: Volunteering was consistently associated with lower mortality rates.
  • Improved Physical Functioning: Enhanced physical activity and self-reported health were noted.
  • Psychological Benefits: Increased life satisfaction, reduced depression, enhanced self-efficacy, and a sense of purpose.
  • Social Benefits: Greater social support, sense of community, and social connectedness.

Certain factors enhanced the benefits of volunteering:

  • Age: Older adults experienced greater benefits, potentially due to the transition from work life and increased altruistic motivations and sense of purpose.
  • Reflection and Altruism: Engaging in reflective practices and having altruistic motivations were associated with better outcomes.
  • Organizational Support: Feeling appreciated and supported by volunteer organizations also enhanced the benefits and protected against burnout.

Findings also suggested that volunteers of lower social economic status may experience more benefits.


The findings underscore the importance of integrating volunteering into health and well-being interventions, particularly for older adults. The positive effects on mortality and physical functioning highlight volunteering as a potential non-clinical intervention for enhancing health outcomes.

Overall, findings argue for the potential of volunteering roles, such as mentoring, in promoting the physical and mental health of adults. Mentoring programs may explore recruiting dedicated mentors by highlighting the benefits mentors themselves can experience.