Value Of Volunteering Hits $173 Billion

The volunteer rate declined a slight 0.5 percent during 2010 but those doing the work made up for the others’ lost time, contributing approximately the same 8.1 billion hours as was amassed during 2009.

The total estimated value of volunteer service in 2010 reached $173 billion with the proportion of volunteers serving more than 100 hours increasing from 33.2 percent in 2009 to 33.8 percent in 2010.

These are among the results of a study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The volunteer rate is the number of people who actually volunteered divided by the number of people 16 and older who are eligible to volunteer.

CNCS each year examines volunteer data from the U.S. Department of Labor and Census Bureau and publishes it on its website, under the banner “Volunteering in America.”  This year, CNCS, carried out phone interviews with 100,000 people over a 12-month period.

“This year we saw millennials (those born after 1981) have a very strong volunteer rate,” said CNCS Chief Strategy Officer Heather Peeler. “In fact, we found the biggest increase among Generation X. Since they were teens, their volunteer rate has doubled. It highlights the ‘volunteer lifecycle.’ From what we’ve seen, the peak volunteer age tends to be in the 40s.”

The volunteer lifecycle as appropriated by the CNCS has volunteer rates very high in teens as opposed to those in early childhood. Then, in the mid- to late twenties, volunteer rates begin to pick up again until reaching a peak around middle age.

Tanisha Smith, national director of volunteer services for Volunteers of America in Alexandria, Va., believes nonprofits need to do a better job in retaining these young volunteers to ensure engagement later down the line.

“It’s absolutely important to keep these young people engaged to a cause,” she said. “We want to make them feel connected to their causes, but also see them as future donors having the opportunity to give to the organization later in life. If they give, it may be because of the experience they had while they were younger.”

Generation X took the largest leap in volunteering this year with 2.3 billion hours of service, an increase of almost 110 million hours compared to 2009. Their participation has grown steadily since the group was between 16 and 24 years old. In 1989, only 12.3 percent of Generation X volunteered with an organization, while in 2010 the volunteer rate has risen to 29.2 percent.

However, even with such tremendous engagement now, these Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1981) had somewhat languished in volunteering in the past, following their initial experience as teenagers. Thus, the “leaky bucket syndrome” has come about describing the quick exit of volunteers following their original service.

Gary Renville, vice president for affiliate advancement at the Points of Light Institute in Atlanta, Ga., said to solve this “leaky bucket syndrome,” of youth volunteers failing to provide future service, nonprofits need to invest more in their volunteer management departments.

“We have told our affiliates to employ a few techniques all focusing on improving communication,” said Renville. “We talk about revamping an orientation for a volunteer to give them a definite result of their actions. We also advocate for moving volunteers up a leadership ladder to make them feel more important.”

Other results from the report indicated that between 2008 and 2010, 17 percent of volunteers donated time to help mentor youth or tutoring and teaching (18 percent). More than one-quarter of volunteers participated in fundraising activities or sold items to raise money for an organization. And, nearly one-quarter (23.5 percent) of volunteers collected, prepared, distributed or served food, whereas 20.3 percent contributed their time to performing general labor or providing transportation.

Greg Baldwin, president of VolunteerMatch in San Francisco, Calif., said there has been an uptick in corporations encouraging volunteering. “We have seen corporations making it easier to manage their volunteer programs,” said Baldwin. “Some 44 percent of our activity came through in our corporate business this past year. It has been a very promising sign.”

As for rankings among the states and metro areas, Utah had the highest volunteer rate of 44.5 percent while Minneapolis-St. Paul area outranked others with a 37.1 percent volunteer rate. There was a much higher volunteer rate in the Midwest section of the United States.

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