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Catalogue Blog

Volunteering in America

By Marie LeBlanc, Community Partnerships Coordinator

Over the past few weeks, Sherika Brooks and I have ventured “into the field” with a handful of Catalogue nonprofits –sorting books, promoting clean water, and serving meals. We are not alone in engaging in volunteer work in our community. Across the United States, over 60 million people spent time volunteering last year, contributing nearly $173 billion worth of value to their communities. In the District, about 30% of adults volunteer, and the same is true for Maryland and Virginia — which is just above the national average of 26.5%.

So who volunteers in America? Sherika and I fit the typical volunteer profile in some ways, but not others. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, women volunteered more than men and middle- and older-aged adults are most likely to volunteer. (We broke the trend for adults in their early twenties, who are least likely to volunteer among all age groups.) Another interesting trend is that “individuals with higher levels of educational attainment engaged in volunteer activities at higher rates than did those with less education. Among persons age 25 and over, 42.4 percent of college graduates volunteered, compared with 18.2 percent of high school graduates and 9.8 percent of those with less than a high school diploma.” A majority of those who volunteer dedicate their time to one or two organizations, one of which is often religiously affiliated. Among all volunteers, the most common activities are fundraising and providing meals.

While overall trends show that the number of volunteers, volunteer hours per resident, and volunteer rate have fallen slightly since the early 2000s, the culture of volunteerism is still strong in the US and one of the strongest worldwide. According to UN Volunteers’ 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, in 2007, Australia showed a high rate of participation in volunteering, at 34% (compared to the US’s 26.5%) and Canada recorded 2.1 billion volunteer hours (compared to the US’s 8.1 billion). However, the US, Canada, and Australia represent part of a small group of countries who track and measure volunteerism worldwide. While participation in civic life is increasing in many middle and lower income countries, mechanisms aren’t in place to determine the impact of that participation on economic and social progress.

And why measure volunteerism anyways? Perhaps this question is better answered terms of why we care about volunteering. The benefits of volunteerism are countless — not only on individuals (the ones serving and being served), but on society at large. In addition to the emotional benefits of helping others, research shows that physical and mental health (especially in older adults) can also improve as a result of volunteering. Volunteering increase one’s sense of community belonging, offers experiential learning opportunities, and enhances social inclusion. On a macro-level, the economic contribution of volunteers’ work hours is significant, as is increased engagement in political and social life, creating a more vibrant and active civil society. Those who volunteer are more likely to care about issues in their community, become knowledgeable about those issues, and take a stand, making a positive impact on lives of others.

Here at the Catalogue, we are proud to contribute to the greater Washington region’s volunteer efforts and hope you’ll join us! Check out the Happenings page and Volunteer Opportunities on our website to learn about ways that you can get involved with Catalogue nonprofits.

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