GuideStar Blog

Are We Really a Nation of Volunteers?


I don't volunteer enough of my time to charity.

There, I said it.

I've got a whole list of good excuses—I just moved to a new community, I simply haven't found the right organization yet, I've been real busy lately. The bottom line, however, is that I need to stop making excuses. I need to get out and get more involved.
So when the GuideStar Newsletter's July Question of the Month asked readers if they felt they volunteered enough of their time to charity, I secretly found myself looking forward to some shameful commiseration.

Imagine my surprise when the results came in. More than 90 percent of respondents indicated that yes, they do feel they give enough of their time to charity. And they proceeded to back up their feelings with some hard facts.

Laura Renner of Healing the Children California wrote, "I spend 4-6 hours per day volunteering, and 3-4 months being a foster parent for ... foreign children, and 1-2 weeks traveling to foreign countries assisting."

Marci Mroz is a stay-at-home mom, a part-time transcriptionist, and a full-time volunteer. "I give endless hours to my children's schools (Metrolina Regional Scholars' Academy primarily, and a little bit at the Cannon School) and as a Brownie Girl Scout Leader (Troop 1130 in Highland Creek, Charlotte, North Carolina). In addition, I donate many hours of my time visiting the elderly through the Friendly Visitors program of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Senior Center and writing/sponsoring women in third world countries through the Women For Women program."

Evelyn Rens, Development and Media Coordinator at Native Seeds/SEARCH wrote, "I work 4-5 hours a week at our local wildlife rehabilitation facility. I help cleaning cages, watering and feeding the birds and animals, laundry, whatever needs to be done. It's very satisfying."

And then there's David Diness:
On Monday I volunteer at the out-patient registration desk of the Orange Regional Medical Center, Horton Campus, Middletown NY from 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

On Tuesday I volunteer at the Mental Health Association in Goshen, New York. I man the Help Line/Hot Line crisis intervention phone and resource line for residents of Orange County, New York from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

I am on call as a volunteer firefighter for the Howells Fire Company in Howells, New York. I am on call 24 hours per day.

I am on the Boards of Directors of the Mental Health Association in Orange County. We meet every other month and most recently was chair of the By Laws Revision Committee.

I am also a trustee of the Horton Hospital Foundation. We are a PR arm of the hospital, and instrumental in its fundraising endeavors. We meet at least 4 times a year, and meet as needed as well.

I am on the Board of Directors of the People For People Fund in Middletown, New York. We provide financial assistance to those experiencing a financial emergency. Our focus is on the working individual who encounters a sudden crisis (illness, substantial auto repairs, illness of a family member in another state, etc). We expect that with our assistance, they will return to self-sufficiency.
Wow.

Now, we've never claimed that the Question of the Month is a scientific survey, and suffice to say the results this month are a bit skewed.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 59 million Americans did some sort of volunteer work between September 2001 and September 2002. This figure represents 27.6 percent of the civilian non-institutional American population age 16 and over. Which leaves 72.4 percent of us who haven't been volunteering at all.

Apparently, I'm part of a silent majority.

A disproportionate amount of volunteer work in this country seems to have fallen to a small group of highly motivated people. Call them super-volunteers, if you will.

As admirable as the dedication of these super-volunteers may be, the overall situation is not a healthy one. Many respondents who felt they donated enough of their time also indicated that they worried they might be volunteering too much of their time. As respondent Roberta Sprague commented, "There is so much need and lots of us are nearing burnout."

The solution to the problem is a simple one. More of us need to contribute.

And so, I invite you to join me in a commitment to get more involved. How much of our time should we volunteer? How much is enough? It all depends on who we are, on our lifestyles, and our objectives. As a helpful baseline, the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, indicates that volunteers spent a median of 52 hours volunteering during the 2001-2002 year. That's just one hour a week. We can do that. We can probably do better.

So, how do we get started?

  • The US Freedom Corps has a new seasonal campaign in full swing, encouraging citizens to volunteer time this summer. Their Web site contains opportunities, resources, tips and ideas for volunteers.
  • The Idealist Web site, run by Action Without Borders, offers up a listing of volunteer opportunities in America and all around the world. The site includes information on 165 countries and tips on volunteering abroad.
  • Volunteer Match is the national directory of volunteer opportunities. Just input your location and your interests and find out what's available in your area.
  • Looking for something more local? Try looking up nearby volunteer centers on GuideStar.
    1. Go to Advanced Search.
    2. Input your location (city, state, and/or zip code and zip code range).
    3. Enter "T40" in the NTEE code field. T40 represents "voluntarism promotion."
    4. Hit search.
    If you didn't find what you were looking for, use T99 (Other Philanthropy, Voluntarism, and Grantmaking Foundations) as an alternate NTEE code or try entering "volunteer" in the Nonprofit Name field. Also, be sure to check out the volunteer section of GuideStar's classified ads.
As for myself, I've just e-mailed a nearby learning center about some opportunities they had listed on a local volunteer site. I might not have what it takes to be a super-volunteer, but I'm pretty sure I have what it takes to make a difference.

The preceding is a guest post by Patrick Ferraro is the Editor of the GuideStar Newsletter.
Topics: Volunteers