Volunteerism rates in the US fall to lowest rate in a decade | Miratel Solutions

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Volunteer rates for US nonprofits fall again in 2013

Some interesting recent fundraising data from Charity Navigator and The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University provides us with a summary of how many individuals in the United States volunteered for a nonprofit in 2013 and how many donated to a nonprofit organization during the calendar year, today we’ll focus primarily on the data about volunteer rates.

Overall 2013 was the 4th consecutive year of net growth in nonprofit donations/receipts continuing the solid recovery from the recession years of the last decade. Volunteering has proven to be far less susceptible to the economic factors that hamper fundraising efforts but what is concerning is that the number of Americans that volunteered fell by almost 2 million in 2013 from 64.5 million down to 62.6 million, a figure that represents the lowest overall percentage of Americans volunteering over the eleven years that such specific data has been collected.

Previously the consistency in volunteering was quite remarkable with anywhere between 60.8 million and 65.4 million (a peak recorded in 2005) over the eleven years of data. The new results are in sharp contrast with where things stood a few years ago which I wrote about at the time. The underlying volunteer rate is important as the overall adult population increases every year; the volunteering percentage has shrunk down to 25.4% of adults last year compared to 28.8% a decade ago. It’s not apparent that lower volunteer rates are related to more financial donations but even considering a reliance on such a trend it would be a dangerous path to head down.

Volunteerism rates are still quite healthy but we’re seeing  a 10% decline in the overall ratio of the population that give their time over the last decade which must be a source of concern for the sector in general. In fact even if financial donations were to increase at a greater rate than that which volunteerism contracts at it doesn’t necessarily mean a good ‘result’ as to the efficiency of nonprofit operations which could be adversely affected if the number of people volunteering continues to fall.


The historical trend of just over 1 in 4 adults giving their time to a charity is long-standing, with experts suggesting that rate has been steady for over three decades and we’re now for the first time looking at the possibility of falling below 25% over the next few years. It is estimated that in 2012 the 64.5 million volunteers offered 7.9 billion hours of their time – a remarkable average of 122 .5 hours per person. Seeing those numbers in black and white truly demonstrates the huge effort and impact made by a great number of people which leaves experts wondering why the overall decline is taking place and whether it is set to continue.

Pinpointing the root of the issue is all but impossible but some research shows that there is may actually a gap or breakdown between those who are willing to volunteer and then finding the opportunity to do so with a growing number of nonprofits. It appears that due to staffing levels and the earlier reductions within the nonprofit workforce during the more difficult years have left a number of charities unable to provide adequate staffing to effectively manage volunteers.  In short there appear to be far more people willing to volunteer than there are volunteering opportunities listed and detailed for which they can connect.

Some studies have shown that the ratio of people who are can’t find a suitable volunteering opportunity is rather large which is unfortunate to read about. Reasons for not finding an ideal match may be the skills/support they wish to offer, the sector they are looking to help or other factors such as geography or the available times they can offer to volunteer. If this proves to be correct it would be a disappointing scenario and one that nonprofits must try and address. Staffing and administrative costs often get moved down the priority list when looking at nonprofit operations and hopefully if that can change volunteerism rates will head back upward in 2014.

Meanwhile the number of households in the US that donated to a nonprofit reached a recent peak of of 87.9% in 2013 which is a fantastic number. Studies show that the total fundraising receipts from public donations were just short of the record $345 billion in 2007. Ideally some percentage of those funds can be allocated in 2014 to better allow volunteers to ably assist nonprofits in giving their time to support their favourite causes.

Have you seen lowered rates of volunteerism associated with your nonprofit or one you support, and do you think that this trend is likely to be ongoing or a statistical anomaly?


Miratel Solutions is a Toronto call centreeBusiness, and letter shop mail house specializing in professional fundraising services including telephone fundraisingonline fundraisinglottery servicesdonation cagingdonation processing and other donor management services. We are committed to our CSR business values in all contact centre services

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