New report shows greatest spike in volunteers since 2003

Despite difficult economic times, the number of Americans volunteering in their communities jumped by 1.6 million last year, the largest increase in six years, according to a report released this week by the Corporation for National and Community Service (the Corporation).   

The Corporation’s annual Volunteering in America report found that 63.4 million Americans volunteered through a formal organization last year, giving more than 8.1 billion hours of volunteer service worth an estimated $169 billion. 

“Americans have responded to tough economic times by volunteering in big numbers,” said Patrick Corvington, the Corporation’s CEO. “What we’re seeing is the depth of the American spirit and generosity at its best. People are turning toward problems, working with their neighbors to find solutions to real problems, from homelessness to the dropout crisis.”

Previous research would suggest that volunteering should drop during an economic downturn, because volunteer rates are higher among job-holders and homeowners.  Instead, volunteering increased at the fastest rate in six years, and the volunteer rate went up among all race and ethnic groups. 

President Obama has placed a high priority on citizen service as a strategy to meet national challenges.  With bipartisan Congressional support, the President has worked with the Corporation for National and Community Service to create more opportunities for Americans to serve, to encourage social innovation, and to focus service on tackling pressing social problems. 

The Volunteering in America research is produced by the Corporation as part of its efforts to expand the reach and impact of America’s volunteers.  The research is the most comprehensive data on volunteering ever assembled, and it includes a volunteer data profile for all states, including the District of Columbia, and hundreds of cities, including data on volunteer rates, rankings, area-specific trends, and analysis.

The report is a tool used by elected officials and nonprofit leaders to develop strategies to mobilize more Americans in service to address local needs and problems. The complete report can be accessed at VolunteeringInAmerica.gov, and below are the top-line findings.

Key Findings and State/City Profiles:

  • Overall 63.4 million Americans (age 16 and older) volunteered in 2009, an increase of almost 1.6 million since 2008.This is the first significant increase in the volunteer rate and the largest single year increase in the volunteer numbers since 2003.
  • For the fifth year in a row, Utah was the top volunteer state with a volunteer rate of 44.2%, followed by Iowa (37.8%), Minnesota (37.5%), Nebraska (37.4%), and Alaska (37.3%). Iowa climbed from the 5th ranked state last year to the 2nd this year.
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul once again ranked number one among large cities at 37.4%, followed by Portland, OR (37.1%), Salt Lake City, UT (35.8%), Seattle, WA (34.9%), and Oklahoma City, OK (33.9%).
  • Mid-size cities, particularly those in the Midwest, have on average higher volunteer rates than large cities, and residents of mid-size cities contribute more hours to volunteering.
  • Among 75 mid-sized cities, Provo, Utah, led the nation for the third year in a row with a whopping 63.6 percent volunteer rate, followed by Iowa City (50.0%), Ogden, UT (47.7%), Fort Collins, CO (40.7%) and Madison, WI (40.0%).

Key Demographic and Ethnic Findings:

  • Women again volunteered at higher rates then men. Working mothers have the highest volunteer rates.
  • Rates increased among African Americans, especially women, this year more than among other groups. The rate of volunteerism among African Americans climbed from 19.1% in 2008 to 20.0% in 2009, and increased by 1.6% among African American women.

Factors Influencing Volunteer Rates:

  • The research found that higher rates of homeownership, lower rates of foreclosure, shorter average commute times, more robust nonprofit infrastructure, lower poverty rates, and higher education levels are all related to higher rates of volunteering.
  • Factors such as the prevalence of multi-unit housing, higher poverty rates, and longer commuting times are associated with lower volunteer rates.  

The Volunteering In America report is a partnership between the Corporation for National and Community Service, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Bureau for Labor Statistics to collect volunteering data annually through the Current Population Survey’s (CPS) Supplement on Volunteering. The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households (approximately 100,000 adults), conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Volunteers are defined as individuals ages 16 and over who perform unpaid volunteer activities for or through an organization. The report includes information for all 50 states, Washington, DC, and 198 cities, including 51 large cities, 75 mid-size cities, and 72 additional cities, based on Metropolitan Statistical Areas.   

To make it easier for Americans to volunteer, the Corporation worked with the White House to launch United We Serve and the Serve.gov website last summer.  At Serve.gov, potential volunteers can find local opportunities simply by entering their zip codes. The site includes do-it-yourself toolkits with instructions for finding and filling local needs, and a blog featuring stories of service from people all across the country. 

The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs, and leads President Obama's national call to service initiative, United We Serve. For more information, visit NationalService.gov

For more information, visit VolunteeringInAmerica.gov .