Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
Over at the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), Diana Aviv, President and CEO of the Independent Sector, a network of philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, provides an update on volunteering in America. “The generous act of volunteering in America,” she writes, “is as vast and varied as the country itself. Some 64 million Americans—roughly one-fifth of our population—engaged in a formal volunteer activity during the past year. The UK-based Charities Aid Foundation’s 2011 World Giving Index ranked the U.S. first in ‘giving,’ as measured by three behaviors: helping a stranger, volunteering time, and giving money.”
Each year in April, Independent Sector reports the estimated economic value of an hour of volunteer time. In 2012, it came to $22.14 per hour, up from $21.79 in 2011. Aggregate those hours and you find that volunteering contributes 5% to our GDP each year. While those who volunteer are, by definition, not in it for the money, attaching a monetary worth to the effort helps us put in perspective the immense value of the contributions people make every day of the year to the lives of others. Yet most volunteers . . . will tell you that the real story is not what they gave but what they got from the experience.
With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day for the next 17 years, meaningful volunteer opportunities for older Americans are very much in demand. Experience Corps, which engages older adult tutors in disadvantaged schools, grew from a concept paper written by IS founding chairman and volunteer-without-equal John W. Gardner. It is a testament to the two-way benefits that accrue from volunteering. Research by Johns Hopkins University shows that Experience Corps not only boosts academic performance in struggling public schools and strengthens ties with surrounding neighborhoods – it enhances the health and well-being of the volunteers in the process.
President Obama showed that he understands the diplomatic power of America’s volunteer spirit when he authorized the State Department to create a special international exchange program to bring leaders from foreign countries to the United States to participate in volunteer efforts. Scholars who study our sector have referred to volunteerism as nothing less than “the real wealth of nations”, noting that a significant portion of the value created by nonprofit organizations stems from the contributions of volunteers.
Sector leaders know this to be true simply by looking around us: in good times and bad, in large organizations and small, we depend on volunteers for service delivery, office support, and fundraising, not to mention the invaluable guidance provided by volunteer boards of trustees.
Many factors make America a great place to live; volunteers are surely one.