Lately there's been a lot of talk about whether working for free is worth it. And the consensus is no, no WORKING for free, unpaid internships etc. are not usually worth it. That said, volunteering is often placed in a completely different category than those jobs where someone is devaluing work by not paying someone for it. And rightfully so.
Usually the things I volunteer to do are not at all similar to that which I do in my paid employment. Now this has a lot to do (currently) with the fact that my paid employment isn't precisely in the job area that I'd like it eventually to be in but that doesn't mean that I don't get a huge amount of value out of volunteering.
Sure I get skill development out of volunteering, but volunteering is a whole lot more than that! There's an element of altruism attached to volunteering… but I'd like to argue that I personally often get a lot more out of volunteering for the right causes/events/organizations. They're often things that I'm already passionate about, use skills (for example: construction skills) that I don't often get the chance to develop, and/or provide the warm fuzzy feelings that abound when I get the evidence right before myself that I'm making a tangible difference in the life of someone else.
And on top of that, volunteering in official or unofficial capacities often returns value to me of a more tangible type too. And I'm not just meaning free swag either (though free stuff like food, clothing, and useful items etc. is often welcome), but rather friendships, people helping me when I need it, kindness, gifts of time, and much more besides. Having access to exclusive experiences, fun events and more is well worth the time it might take me to write up reviews, volunteer a few hours, organize an event etc. Sometimes the benefit I get out of something is the opportunity to declutter, upgrade, enjoy some unique experience, or more.
But there has to be some sort of benefit for the work that I do: whether it's that I'm helping an organization or cause that I believe in (which is why I've stopped or haven't ever been helping out with particular events or activities if I no longer or never felt comfortable supporting the causes/organizations in question).
Something I have learned over the years is that it's just as important to decide to what to say YES to doing as it is to decide what to say NO to. Indeed, it's really important to still have time for one's self and not occupy every waking moment with volunteer work and paid work and forget to find time for one's self separate from all of these other tasks/obligations as well. And in order to be able to do this properly, one must have an appropriate amount of income/ability to afford it. I come from a relatively privileged position insofar that I'm able to do this outside of work, really.