Volunteer Experts Discuss Consequences and Impact of U.S. Decline in Formal Volunteering and Ways to Reverse the Trend 

Co-hosts Points of Light, More Perfect, The George and Barbara Bush Foundation, Starbucks and UPS were joined by 20 national organizations in Houston during the Points of Light Conference 

Jun 21, 2024

On June 12, at the 2024 Points of Light Conference in Houston, TX, leaders from national nonprofits gathered to discuss the decline in formal volunteering in the U.S. which is at an alarming 30-year low of 23 percent. More than 20 national organizations that rely on volunteers as a significant contributor to their workforce came together to address the seven percent decline highlighted in the Volunteering and Civic Life in America report, and which occurred over the period of 2019 – 2021.

Experts in volunteer recruitment and management discussed the consequences and impact of the decline, bright spots of engagement, and how to reverse the trend. Co-hosted by Points of Light, More Perfect, The George and Barbara Bush Foundation, Starbucks and UPS, the convening was the first step in developing opportunities to collaborate and devise strategies for increasing volunteering as a key mechanism for delivering critical services in communities around the country.

“Volunteering has a positive impact on the wellbeing of those who serve. Volunteers meet critical community needs,” said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO, Points of Light. “And, volunteering has the power to heal our societies by creating empathy and equity, increasing meaningful connections that bridge divides. It’s imperative that we work together to reverse the downward trend in volunteering.”

Leaders from AmeriCorps, The Corps Network, America’s Service Commission, Service Year Alliance, Operation Gratitude, VolunteerMatch, PeaceCorps, Girls on the Run International, Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Best Friends Animal Society, Catholic Charities USA, Reading Partners, YMCA of the USA, National Park Service, United Way Worldwide, Team Rubicon, Youth Service America, FirstBook, American Red Cross, More Perfect, Operation HOPE, Voices for National Service, America250, Convoy of Hope, AARP and AARP Foundation were among the attendees who shared successes and challenges for volunteer recruitment and program management.

Most organizations in the room experienced a steep decline in formal volunteering from the pre-pandemic period to post pandemic. The organizations are reevaluating their volunteer needs post-pandemic. The trends identified ranged from individuals wanting to experience more flexible opportunities; a desire for single-day engagement events; and younger generations viewing volunteering differently.

It’s not just the drop in volunteers that presents a challenge. Communities worldwide are threatened by complex and urgent issues, while disconnection and isolation undermine efforts to rally people to help address these deep-rooted challenges. Volunteers are essential to meeting critical needs, and volunteering creates connections and builds trust and empathy. Yet there are not enough people engaged, impacting both communities and societal engagement. Volunteering brings deep value to the individual, the communities in which they serve and our society.

Discussions of what’s working and best practices were core to the event and included positioning volunteering as a professional skill-building opportunity, trialing coaching programs for youth engagement, increasing virtual volunteering opportunities, redefining what service means to different generations, developing both a national and state-level strategy, and done-in-a-day flexible volunteer programs that may serve as a critical entry point to deeper engagement.

The formal volunteering rate will only increase with a proactive, unified approach to determining the underlying reasons behind the decline, devising effective solutions, and rallying people to get engaged with a sense of urgency. Points of Light is committed to continuing to convene this group to develop and implement a national strategy to reverse the trend and increase the number of people volunteering in the U.S.  Points of Light is a core partner, together with nine other service organizations, of More Perfect to advance Democracy Goal 2 and co-authored the plan of action, Ask and All: A Plan to Expand National Service and Volunteering.

Points of Light is a nonpartisan, global nonprofit organization that inspires, equips and mobilizes millions of people to take action that changes the world. Through our work with nonprofits, companies, and social impact leaders, we galvanize volunteers to meet critical needs. As the world’s largest organization dedicated to increasing volunteer service, we engage nearly 4 million volunteers across 38 countries to create healthy, equitable communities where all can thrive. For more information, visit pointsoflight.org.

More Perfect is an alliance of 34 Presidential Centers, National Archives Foundation, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Karsh Institute of Democracy at the University of Virginia, and more than 100 partners working to advance five foundational Democracy Goals.

Both Points of Light and More Perfect are National Resource Partners of America250.

The George & Barbara Bush Foundation strives to preserve the historic legacies of President and Mrs. Bush, primarily by supporting and promoting education and service-oriented programs at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum and The Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University. The Bush Presidential Center creates unique and life-changing opportunities that bring together and connect world leaders, students, public policy experts, business executives, and current officeholders. More at www.georgeandbarbarabush.org.

UPS (NYSE: UPS) is one of the world’s largest companies, with 2023 revenue of $91.0 billion, and provides a broad range of integrated logistics solutions for customers in more than 200 countries and territories. Focused on its purpose statement, “Moving our world forward by delivering what matters,” the company’s approximately 500,000 employees embrace a strategy that is simply stated and powerfully executed: Customer First. People Led. Innovation Driven. UPS is committed to reducing its impact on the environment and supporting the communities we serve around the world. UPS also takes an unwavering stance in support of diversity, equity and inclusion. More information can be found at www.ups.com, about.ups.com and investors.ups.com.

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