The holiday season is a time of celebrations, special moments with family and friends, and of course, gift-giving. I think that one of the greatest gifts, any time of year, is service to others. So it was great to hear that volunteering and service to others continues to be a priority for millions of Americans.
“Volunteering and Civic Life in America 2014,” just released by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), found that in 2013, 62.6 million (25.4 percent) Americans volunteered through an organization, contributing an estimated value of $173 billion. In addition, more than 138 million Americans (62.5 percent) also engaged in informal volunteering in their communities, helping neighbors with such tasks as watching each other’s children, helping with shopping, or house sitting.
The Volunteering and Civic Life in America data include profiles for all 50 states, 51 large cities, and 75 mid-sized cities, including data on volunteer rates, civic indicators, rankings, area-specific trends, and analysis. This research provides the government and nonprofit leaders like United Way with in-depth information on volunteering and civic trends to help us develop strategies to mobilize more Americans to address local needs through service.
The top volunteer activities identified in the new research included fundraising or selling items to raise money (25.4 percent) and collecting, preparing, distributing, or serving food (24.2 percent). Our own research shows that more and more people are volunteering with United Way, in part because we focus on the three cornerstones of education, financial stability and health. Addressing these interconnected issues, we believe, will achieve greater impact in the long run.
Informal volunteering is important, but volunteering through a group is critical because, according to the NCoC, getting involved with a group or organization is a key indicator of how healthy our civic life is. Group participation has declined, which has an adverse effect on our economy and feeling connected and secure in our community. By promoting volunteering, United Way aims to reverse that trend, bring people in and connect them to causes that matter. Your local United Way can help you give the gift of service now, and throughout the year. Your gift of service will help improve your own health, and perhaps that of others, and will strengthen our civic health as well.