Study: Volunteering Hits 30-Year High

WASHINGTON – Volunteerism is on the rise in America, especially among the younger crowds. A new 30-year report tracked an increasing trend of lending helping hands and prompted volunteer agencies to ask for more help this holiday season.

The Corporation for National and Community Service reviewed volunteer trends since 1974 and found a sharp rise of more than 32 percent over the last two decades.

Volunteer Growth in America: A Review of Trends Since 1974 reported that the growth in volunteering is driven primarily by teenagers 16 to 19, Baby Boomers and others age 45 to 65 and older adults 65 and over.

"We are encouraged that emerging studies consistently show increased volunteering by young Americans. If supported properly, we may be on the cusp of a new civic generation,” said Robert T. Grimm, Jr., Director of Research and Policy Development at the Corporation, in the report. “At the same time, Boomers’ high engagement in service today has the potential to foster a volunteer explosion among older Americans in the years to come.”

Major George Hood, national community relations secretary for The Salvation Army, indicated two dynamics for the increasing trend of volunteerism: the ease of communication to the general public and greater awareness of opportunities.

Grimm cited other reasons including mid-life adults being more likely to have children in the home because Americans are delaying marriage and childbearing. The result is increased exposure to volunteering opportunities connected to their children’s school and extracurricular activities. A response to traumatic national events such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina are also possible reasons for heightened civic engagement.

Such dynamics may have contributed to the sharply higher rates of volunteering in the Boomer generation compared to previous generations at mid-life. And spending hours in volunteer services isn't foreign among teens either. The national study showed that older teens have more than doubled their time spent volunteering since 1989.

"We're seeing more and more high school groups and college groups that want to get involved," Hood highlighted. "And it really is for them ... a very practical way to give back to a community and to get involved with a charity because it gives them the chance to see firsthand from the practical side what their role as a volunteer would do to help an organization."

One of the largest NGOs in the nation, The Salvation Army has already seen volunteers triple in number over the last 20 years. The Christian organization's latest annual report revealed more than 3.5 million people having volunteered with the Army.

Two "emotional" volunteer spikes that Hood has seen is in their Christmas bell ringing services and disaster work.

"People want to get their sleeves rolled up and get involved," Hood commented about the step-up of volunteers when natural disasters hit.

The growing numbers are also reflective on a smaller scale. Here's Life Inner City, an urban ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ International, drew the help of 550 volunteers this year as opposed to the 300 they typically get, according to Here's Life's director, Clint Owens.

David Eisner, chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said the study should signal nonprofit groups to prepare for the "tidal shift" in volunteering.

According to Hood, preparation is key.

"It's very important that when you bring a [young] professional into your agency, you better be prepared to keep them busy and give them substantial work and responsibility or they won't come back," he warned.

Volunteer Growth in America: A Review of Trends Since 1974 is the latest in the Corporation’s “Volunteering in America” series, which was launched last year. The research briefs examine historical trends in volunteering in an effort to highlight emerging trends and encourage more adults to volunteer.