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Volunteering is a Core American Value

by Wendy Spencer

During this holiday season, we are reminded of a timeless lesson:  it is better to give than receive, more blessed to serve than be served. And our new Volunteering and Civic Life in America report shows that Americans embrace this idea -- not only during the holidays, but all year long.

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) issues this research every year in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship. The research provides a wealth of information on volunteering and civic life, including trends and demographics for the nation, every state, and 126 cities. This in-depth “look under the hood” helps local leaders better understand volunteer dynamics and develop strategies to engage more citizens in meeting community needs. 

Volunteering Remains Strong | 1 in 4 Americans volunteer (26.5%), enhancing opportunities for their neighbors and communities.  64.5 million Americans served 7.9 billion hours.

Our new report shows that volunteering remains stable and strong across the United States, and has a strong pull across generations. Altogether, more than 64.5 million adults volunteered through an organization in 2012, for a national volunteer rate of 26.5 percent, essentially unchanged from the prior year. Volunteers gave nearly 7.9 billion hours of service, worth an estimated $175 billion, based on the Independent Sector’s estimate of the average value of a volunteer hour.

We found that Americans commitment to volunteering spans across generations:

  • America’s teens continue to increase their level of volunteering, rising by nearly 3 percent during the last six years.
  • Generation X volunteers (current age 32 to 48) are riding an even-longer streak of volunteering increases, and they now have the highest volunteer rate of any age group.
  • Not to be outdone, our seniors 65 and over are staying involved, contributing a median of 90 hours annually, a figure far above the level of the general population.

Like last year, we found that parents are the backbone of community volunteering, with more than one-third of those living with children under 18 taking the time to help. And let’s not forget our country’s working moms, who volunteer significantly more than the general population in addition to all of their other responsibilities.

Volunteers are the giving heart of America, essential to our nation’s social and economic well-being. They do hard-but-important work: helping kids learn to read and stay in school, rebuilding communities after disasters, connecting veterans to services, bringing life back to forgotten neighborhoods, and much more.

Volunteering also connects us with our neighbors and provides a chance to use own skills for the common good. Our Volunteering as a Pathway to Employment study showed that volunteers have a 27 percent higher likelihood of finding a job after being out of work than non-volunteers. These connections create benefits that are even more pronounced for volunteers who don’t have a high school diploma or who live in rural areas, increasing the likelihood of finding work by 51 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

This spirit of generosity doesn’t end with the time volunteers give. Our research found that volunteers are twice as likely to donate to charity as non-volunteers, with 8 in 10 volunteers ready to open their wallets for a good cause, compared to just 4 in 10 for those who don’t volunteer. 

All of this is great news for our nonprofits, our communities, and our country, and says so much about the nation in which we are blessed to live.

This time of year is often when we reflect on the past year and set our goals for the next. Given all the good it does for you and your community; resolve to make volunteering a part of your life in 2014.

Wendy Spencer is CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Learn more about the 2013 Volunteering in Civic Life in America research at VolunteeringinAmerica.gov. To find a volunteer opportunity in your community, visit Serve.gov. This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post Impact blog.

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