We encourage our students to volunteer. It gives them valuable work (and life) experience; it gives back to the community; it’s good public relations. (The BBC has initiated a dicussion on volunteering by asking if it’s for the privileged few.)
There’s another thing. In a professionalised world, it reminds us of the amateur spirit: the virtue of doing things because they’re fun or good, rather than just because they’re well paid. I’m typing this as I listen to For Immediate Release; podcasts and blogs are almost all amateur productions arising out of the professional world (expressions of the amateur spirit supported by profesional tools, if you like). So you can see how strong the amateur spirit is in 2005.
I’d go further. I’ve always set myself this test (and annoyed my friends with it too): would you carry on doing your job even for no money? Of course the bills have to be paid, but this test asks you to assess value in more than monetary terms. Perhaps that’s why I’m a university lecturer today: I’m doing something I love, and I value independence and a sensible work-life balance. Besides, there are unexpected rewards in education (that sometimes only come years later).