Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Viva los Volunteers!

2009 was a tough year for the economy and charitable giving - but it was a boom year for volunteering.

A recent study by the Corporation for National and Community Services indicates that more than 63 million Americans - almost 27% of the population - gave their time as volunteers helping nonprofit organizations in the last year. This represents the largest single-year jump since 2003. About 8.1 billion hours of service were donated, valued at approximately $169 billion.

These figures from 2009 defied the expectation that when the economy goes bad, people just want to take care of their own families and close friends.

The largest percentage of Americans - over 30% - volunteer at churches or religious organizations. But social service agencies saw the number of their volunteers go up from 8.4 million in 2008 to 8.8 million in 2009. Note that this study did not measure all the people who volunteer at schools or helping out neighbors.

And note that the most popular volunteer activity (27%) was fundraising!

There are many factors that may have contributed to this wealth of volunteers:
  • The president and first lady's emphasis on the value of volunteerism
  • A large number of jobless people hoping to gain experience, skills, and contacts (and with the time to do so)
  • A growing emphasis on volunteerism, including required volunteer hours for graduation, at high schools throughout the country
  • People short on cash choosing to continue to support the causes they care about by giving their time
  • Improvements in the way nonprofits recruit and retain their volunteers
  • The breadth of the global downturn acting as a catalyst for people to be more understanding about the plight of others
Volunteering is a great way for people to contribute to a good cause while having fun, gaining work experience, and broadening their community. For cash-strapped nonprofits with staff stretched to the limit in these challenging times, volunteers provide absolutely vital services. At the same time, these volunteers are more likely over time to make charitable donations.

With the recovery from the global downturn moving at a snail's pace, now is a good time to evaluate your volunteer program, be sure to thank your dedicated volunteers, double your outreach efforts, and work to increase the number of people actively involved in supporting your good work with their donated time.