Change Notes: Volunteering in America

Aug 10, 2011


The Corporation for National and Community Service’s (CNCS) annual Volunteering in America report found volunteers are resolute in their commitment to the nation, serving almost 8.1 billion hours in their communities in 2010.

Points of Light Institute, along with its volunteer activation division HandsOn Network, is focused on inspiring, equipping and mobilizing people to use their time, talent, voice and money to create change in their communities. This year’s report shows that despite economic pressures felt across the nation, 62.8 million citizens joined hands to make a difference.

The report shows that volunteers and nonprofit organizations have stepped in when needs arise, providing a powerful economic and social benefit to their communities. The value of this service is nearly $173 billion according to Independent Sector’s estimate of the dollar value of volunteer time. By focusing on our critical areas of needs – education, environment, economic development and emergency response – volunteers are filling gaps created by tighter budgets and fewer resources.

Notably, Generation X volunteers (born 1965 to 1981) devoted more time to service in 2010 than ever before, giving more than 2.3 billion hours. This demonstrates a shift researchers are seeing across the “volunteer lifecycle” – the arc of civic involvement that tends to increase as citizens feel a deeper connection to their community through personal networks, their workplace and their children’s schools, according to the report.

The future of service is also strong with teen volunteer rates staying consistently high, likely reflecting the spread of service learning in schools across the country, the influence of parental volunteering and the rise of technology making it easier to find volunteer opportunities. Organizations like generationOn, Points of Light Institute’s youth activation division, are helping to fuel this growth by partnering with teachers, parents, schools, community organizations and businesses, to give kids the opportunity to see firsthand the issues in their communities and the tools and resources they need to respond and become part of the solution. Since 1989, these types of efforts have caused the number of youth volunteering to double.

While the national volunteer rate has dropped slightly, those who serve are giving more time. The proportion of volunteers who serve 100 hours or more increased between 2009 and 2010 from 33.2 percent to 33.8 percent. The median number of hours served per volunteer appears to have increased from 50 to 52 per year. We believe this shows that Americans are identifying problems and taking it upon themselves to create solutions and make their communities stronger.

As volunteers fill critical voids in their communities’ infrastructure, state and local leaders increasingly recognize the key role volunteers play in addressing economic and social challenges at a time of fiscal constraint. Government leaders are looking to nonprofit organizations – like HandsOn Network affiliates – to meet a range of needs.

Three strong HandsOn Network affiliate cities had the strongest volunteer rates in the country. For the fifth year in a row, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, served by HandsOn Twin Cities, ranked number one for volunteering among large cities with a 37.1 percent volunteer rate. It is followed by Portland, served by Hands On Greater Portland, in second with 36.2 percent; Seattle, served by Seattle Works and United Way of King County Vounteer Center, ranked fourth with 33.9 percent.

“The population explosion in the Portland region has resulted in a volunteer explosion,” said Andy Nelson, executive director of Hands On Greater Portland. “While other regions have experienced similar booms, unique to Portland is that so many newcomers want to get involved. Hands On Greater Portland taps into this desire by providing volunteers with meaningful projects that get them in touch with their community. We know volunteers want to do good, they want to connect, to have a purpose and feel part of the community – that’s what we give them”

Each of these three cities is also part of HandsOn Networks’ Innovation Hubs initiative, designed to keep affiliates on the cutting edge of innovation, creating new ways to connect with individuals and create change. Each will be a learning lab for community engagement and will be supported through grants to drive innovation, build strong leadership and advance the mission of HandsOn Network through acquired skills and knowledge.

At the end of three years, the practices and learning emerging from the Innovation Hubs Initiative will form the blueprint for evolving the model of engagement across our network to meet 21st century needs of both volunteers and the communities in which they engage.

CNCS produces the annual Volunteering in America research to provide elected officials and nonprofit leaders with in-depth information on volunteering trends and demographics to help them develop strategies to mobilize more Americans to address local needs through service. The engagement of our citizens has never been more important and the CNCS study shows us that we have a strong foundation to build upon and that there is yet more to do.

Yours in service,

Michelle Nunn

CEO, Points of Light Institute

Michelle Nunn