Money & Business

Survey: Volunteering Numbers Are On the Decline

By / Mar 4, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Associations had a range of reactions to a new Bureau of Labor Statistics survey that showed the number of volunteers declined in 2013.

The association and nonprofit community thrives thanks to the work of its volunteers. More than nine out of 10 association members reported volunteering with their association or another organization, according to ASAE’s Decision to Volunteer.

But while nonprofits enjoy an abundance of volunteer help, the United States saw its total number of volunteers drop to a 10-year low in 2013. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released last week, the volunteer rate dropped 1.1 percent to 25.4 percent of the population in the year ending September 2013.

The data, collected as part of the Current Population Survey and sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), showed that roughly 62.6 million people volunteered at least once through an organization in the past year.

BLS also broke the data down by a number of demographics, including race, marital status, and age. In a rather surprising twist given reports about how younger generations believe volunteer organizations and charities are the best way to improve society, volunteer rates were lowest among people aged 20 to 24 (18.5 percent), while people aged 35 to 44 were among the most likely to volunteer (30.6 percent).

Diana Aviv, CEO of Independent Sector, credited the difference in generational volunteering to people’s outlook at various stages of life. “Almost always, the most compelling reason for people to continue to volunteer is that they’re parents,” she told U.S. News.

“Volunteering is a core American value. Our research has found that large numbers of Americans — more than 1 in 4 — regularly volunteer in their communities, and this rate has stayed relatively stable over the past 12 years,” CNCS spokeswoman Samantha Jo Warfield said in a statement to the Nonprofit Times. “As the federal agency dedicated to this issue, we hope to find ways for all Americans to get involved in service.”

Nathan Dietz, a senior research associate at the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy of the Urban Institute, told the Times that the more important statistic to look at was the total number of hours spent volunteering. “No matter what happens with rate, the total number total tended to be very, very consistent over time,” he said. Aside from a large increase in hours between 2010 and 2011 from 8.1 million hours to 8.5 million, he said the numbers have been fairly consistent.

One statistic that was alarming to Dietz, though, was the decline in volunteering among people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, which fell from a 2009 high of 42.8 percent to 39.8 percent in 2013.“This could be the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “That number had been staple a long time and all of a sudden the bottom dropped out. Education is the single best predictor of volunteering. It’s people with a job and a good one.”

However, Dietz also said the data might not tell the whole story about volunteering. Since the survey asked only about volunteering with an organization, it may not have captured data on virtual volunteering and community organizing at the local level.

“There has been an increase in community-oriented helping behaviors,” said Dietz. “Organizations might not be adapting to changes in the supply of volunteers. This opens opportunities for the sector.”

Has your association noticed a decline or surge in volunteering over the last year? Share your story in the comments.

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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