I recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions to Robert Velasco, the acting CEO of Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). This isn’t an organization or volunteer profile, but it does give you a glimpse at a recent study on volunteerism in America. I hope you enjoy!
The Blogunteer: What trends are you seeing in volunteerism?
Robert Velasco: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to share with your readers why service and volunteering are so important to our country. The biggest takeaway from this year’s Volunteering in America research was Americans’ enduring commitment to use service to solve critical problems in their communities. From education to disaster relief to helping our veterans and military families, Americans are making a real difference. Last year, 62.8 million adults volunteered, contributing a total of more than 8 billion hours of service valued at nearly $173 billion to communities and the nation last year, using Independent Sector’s estimate of the dollar value of volunteer time.
The Blogunteer: What types of organizations are the most popular – for example an organization that serves one cause or an organization that benefits many different causes?
Robert Velasco: Across all regions, age groups, and genders, we’re seeing that people tend to volunteer – and stick with volunteering – when they’re focused on an issue that they care about and when they can see first-hand the impact they are making. Most volunteers (35.0%) serve through religious institutions, which engage on a broad range of issues. Volunteers also frequently serve in education (26.7%), social services (14.0%) and hospitals (8.4%).
The Blogunteer: Are there certain age groups that volunteer at higher percentages than others?
Robert Velasco: One of the interesting findings from this year’s report was that Generation X – that is, Americans born from 1965 to 1981 – were among the most likely to volunteer. The data shows that in their younger years of 1989, Generation X members had an unusually low volunteering rate; however, they have increased their engagement dramatically. According to this year’s findings, 20.1 million members of Generation X served in 2010, providing 2.3 billion hours of service, an increase of almost 110 million hours over 2009. Moreover, Generation X members more than doubled their volunteer rate between 1989 and the present day, from 12.3 percent in 1989 to 29.2 percent in 2010.
This ties back into what researchers are seeing across the “volunteer lifecycle”—the arc of civic involvement that tends to increase as citizens feel a deeper connection to their communities through personal networks, their workplace, and their children’s schools.
The Blogunteer: In what ways do people tend to give back the most (money, in kind donations, or giving their time)?
Robert Velasco: The top four service activities we saw nationally were fundraising (26.5%); food collection, preparation, and distribution (23.5%); general labor or transportation (20.3%); and tutoring or teaching (18.5%). The full report is available online at VolunteeringInAmerica.gov so you can learn more about volunteering trends for your city, state, region, age group, and gender.
The Blogunteer: Did the study dig into what motivates individuals to volunteer?
Robert Velasco: Although this particular report doesn’t ask what motivates individuals to volunteer, other research has found that a big part of the answer is incredibly simple: People want their service to have an impact, to be meaningful, to make a difference. We have also learned that volunteering is less a matter of how much time you have, but how you choose to spend your time. Working mothers, for example, have the highest volunteer rates. Finally, people volunteer when they are asked – by their friends, family, or coworkers – so social networks are an important driver of volunteer rates.
The Blogunteer: What is the most surprising finding from the study?
Robert Velasco: In addition to the finding about the increase in volunteer rates by Generation X, the research also found interesting patterns about volunteering by older adults. The peak years for volunteering generally tend to occur between the mid-thirties to early forties. The volunteer rate then declines as volunteers grow older, but the decline in volunteer rates in older adulthood has become less severe over time. Some researchers believe this reflects the fact that more Americans are staying healthier longer and that volunteering has become a more recognized strategy for staying healthy in older adulthood. This reflects a larger idea about service – that service give back as much to the volunteer as it does to the direct beneficiary. Volunteers hone their skills, connect to their communities, make friends, and experience the joy and satisfaction that comes from serving others.
The Blogunteer: Any other information you would like to share with The Blogunteer?
Robert Velasco: There is no set profile of a volunteer. Whether you are introverted or extroverted, whether you like computers or art or the outdoors or cooking, whether you are 12 or 80, whether you have an hour per month or hours per day to volunteer, there is a service opportunity that is right for you. I ask everyone to go to Serve.gov, type in your zip code, and see how you can volunteer in your community. Thank you.
Robert Velasco, II, was designated Acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)by President Obama on May 27, 2011. CNCS is the federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in results-driven service through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs, and leads President Obama’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve.