There is no experience that you can have as a person that is quite like volunteering. When you are at work, or when you are at school, you are doing things that are being dictated to you. You might be able to choose your job, but you are doing for the paycheck. You might be able to pick your classes in college, but you are taking them in order to get a better job. There are rarely times when we are doing something just to do it. However, when we volunteer we are doing something that makes us feel better about ourselves, and allows us to really give back to people just because.
I think that it should be the goal of every person to volunteer at least once in your lifetime. Volunteering doesn't mean you have to go rebuild a city after a hurricane, or spend hours feeding the homeless, it just means that you give back in some meaningful way. It doesn't matter how big the effort is, or how small the effort is, just as long as it comes from the will to do good in the community. Whatever it is though, just make sure that you want to do it, and understand why you are doing so.
Why do we volunteer? I think that we volunteer because there are so many people who need help, and we should all pitch in for the good of our community. I think that people do have some sort of altruistic side to them, and being able to volunteer every so often makes us feel good about ourselves. Why would someone stand outside in the cold of winter to ring a bell outside of a mall? They do it because they know that someone is going to have a better Christmas because of it.
People volunteer because they know that when they pitch in, a lot of people will benefit from that work. If you build a house, you are helping get a family off of the streets. In a small way you are making a better life for yourself by helping out that other family. If a family has a kid, and that kid is off the streets, the kid might not be as willing to turn to crime to feed himself. In turn you have helped change that life, and make a positive impact.
Volunteering is something that people do because we all need help sometimes. If I need help with my math homework, who am I going to go to? Probably someone that is good at math. What happens when the guy next to me needs help with his astronomy homework? I can help him out because I am good at astronomy. However, why should I expect someone else to help me if I am not willing to help the people around me that I can help?
We volunteer because we really do want to help out as much as we can. I would feel bad if I could help someone out, but didn't because I just didn't feel like it. Granted, we all have a ton going on in our lives, and the commitment to helping others is limited sometimes, but I think every so often we need to help who we can. In doing so we help out everyone in our lives.