esearch shows that volunteerism in the United States has been declining over the last two decades. While over 90% of the population wants to volunteer, only 1 out of 4 Americans actually do.
According to the Stanford Center of Longevity, the most common reason for not volunteering is lack of free time (about half of Americans cite this as the main reason.) Another common reason is that the volunteer schedules and commitments are too inflexible.
Every two years, AmeriCorps produces comprehensive research about civic engagement trends in the United States. The research supports evidence-based decision making and efforts to understand how people make a difference in communities across the country. The most recent survey covers volunteering and other civic behaviors from September 2020-2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report categorizes volunteerism in two ways: formal and informal.
Formal volunteering involves helping others through groups, clubs or organizations and includes activities like public health efforts, conducting wellness checks on isolated seniors, supporting food banks and providing virtual tutoring and mentoring to help students stay on track in school.
In 2021, the rate of formal volunteering through organizations dropped by seven percentage points, from 30% in 2019 to 23.2%. The rate drop was substantially larger for women (eight percentage points) than men (five percentage points) but women continued to volunteer at a higher rate. Generation X (ages 41 to 56 in 2021) had the highest rate of all generations. People ages 16-17 had the highest rate of all age groups at 28%, followed by people ages 45 to 54 at 27%. Parents with children under 18 formally volunteered at a higher rate (30%) than those without children in their household (21%).
Despite the decrease, an estimated 23.2% of Americans - or more than 60.7 million people - formally volunteered with organizations. In total, these volunteers served an estimated 4.1 billion hours with an economic value of $122.9 billion.
While formal volunteering rates dropped, informal helping rates largely remained steady. (Although, it’s important to mention that no state saw an increase.)
Informal volunteerism involves helping others outside of an organizational context and includes doing favors for neighbors like house sitting, watching each others children, lending tools, running errands and other things to lend a hand. Between September 2020 and 2021, nearly 51% of Americans - or 124.7 million people - informally helped their neighbors.
Overall, Utah was ranked the No. 1 state for volunteerism. More than half of the residents reported volunteering in the last year - for a total of almost 140 million hours. Minnesota also ranked at the top of the list, with more than 45% of residents volunteering in the last year.Approximately 1,587,056 formal volunteers contributed 137 million hours of service through organizations worth an estimated $3.5 billion.
According to America’s Health Rankings, volunteering is a form of civic participation that improves individual, community and societal health.
Civic participation expands an individual's social network and increases their social capital, which can lead to more employment opportunities and, in some cases, improve mental health.
Volunteering is also directly associated with improved health, although the exact reasons are still unclear. Data from multiple studies show an average 22% reduction in mortality among volunteers compared with non-volunteers. Volunteers have a lower risk of high blood pressure and are less likely to have obesity.
Those who volunteer also experience mental health benefits, including reduced depression and increased life satisfaction and well-being. Volunteering may have particular benefits for older adults. Furthermore, there is emerging evidence that seniors who volunteer regularly have fewer cognitive complaints and a lower prevalence of mild to moderate dementia than seniors who do not volunteer regularly.
A new Gallup poll found that more Americans are donating money to charities than in 2020, but fewer people are volunteering. Below are some ideas of ways to get involved.
Ways to get involved
Decide which causes you care about, identify the skills and knowledge you can offer, determine how often you can volunteer and research opportunities in your community.
Common places that have volunteer opportunities include:
• Homeless shelters. Homeless shelters often have several volunteer opportunities available, including preparing and serving food to the homeless in your area.
• Animal shelters. Opportunities at animal shelters may include dog walking and administrative help.
• Home construction organizations. Some nonprofits build homes or perform repairs on existing homes for little to no cost. Volunteer opportunities could include construction or cleaning jobs.
• Retirement homes. People in retirement homes often rely on volunteers as a source of entertainment and learning. You could teach an art class or read a book once a week in your local retirement home as a way of giving back to the community.
• Libraries. Many local libraries seek volunteers to contribute to the overall operations. Opportunities to consider include organizing bookshelves, participating in weekly reading events and assisting library visitors.
• Local sports programs and organizations. Opportunities may consist of assisting with tasks such as running competitions, liaising with visiting teams, working with the public, providing security and/or other services for athletes, sponsors and spectators associated with the sporting event.
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