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America's Tradition of Giving and Volunteering


America is a nation of volunteers and contributors, from the first public libraries and volunteer fire companies begun by Benjamin Franklin to those compassionate souls who joined Clara Barton's new Red Cross in the 1860s. The voluntary spirit continues to thrive in present-day America, even in a society where there is much to discourage open-handedness and compassion. Generosity and the public spirit are demonstrated by the citizens who volunteer to serve on their local school board, by the teenagers who clean up parks and playgrounds, by the elderly woman hand-making a quilt for her local library fundraiser. Recent surveys show that:

  • Approximately 93 million American adults volunteer annually—that's 49% of all adults.
  • Volunteers contribute an average of 4.2 hours per week—totaling 20.3 billion hours with an estimated dollar value of $201.5 billion.
  • 59% of teenagers volunteer an average of 3.5 hours per week—that's 13.3 million volunteers totaling 2.4 billion hours at a total value of $7.7 billion.
  • 69% of American households make a contribution to one or more charitable organizations. The average gift of contributing households is $1,017, or 2.2% of income. Individual Americans give a total of almost $120 billion to charitable and community causes.
The nonprofit sector cannot take the place of government programs, nor can it single-handedly cure the ills and disparities of society. But each of us can make a difference in a small way, in our own sphere, and can find ways to help that will make our efforts worth the time and trouble we invest in them.

Some of the Best Reasons to Give

Some of the best reasons to give are the ones you may not have considered—the ones that make it worth your while to go that extra step. People who have spent time volunteering for a cause or have contributed money to a charity report that they get back in satisfaction and joy more than they ever expend in inconvenience or effort—what you get back is immeasurable. You'll also receive these benefits:

  • Volunteering makes you feel needed.
  • Volunteering can lead to learning new skills.
  • Giving helps keep taxes and other costs down.
  • Giving returns to society some of the benefits society gives you.
  • Volunteering can help you deal with some of your personal problems.
  • Giving lets those who have more share with those who have less.
  • Volunteering helps you meet new people and breaks down barriers of misunderstanding, mistrust, and fear.
  • Giving may bring tax benefits.
  • Volunteering can create new contacts which may help your business or career.

It's What in the World You Can Do!

You might be thinking, "The little bit that I can do will never help much!" or "What in the world can I do?" If you've ever spent ten minutes reading a book to a lonely child, you know that even that small amount of compassion and attention can make a world of difference. No one person can solve the world's problems, but what little you do can make your little corner of the world—or one far away from yours—a happier, healthier, safer place to live for those who need your help. Each of us can right a wrong, fill a plate, visit a shut-in or clean up a park—and that does make a difference for us all!
Topics: Charity Nonprofits