How a Deeper Data Dive into the Latest U.S. Volunteering Report Will Help Your Volunteer Program

Take a deep dive into volunteer dataWith the recent release of the newest “Volunteering and Civic Life in America” report from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), bloggers and data nerds across the volunteering sector started rubbing their hands together in anticipation of all the new nuggets to dissect. This included me (although I won’t admit to whether I fall under “blogger” or “data nerd.”)

A High Level Look

At first glance, the data released by CNCS documenting volunteering in 2011 holds many similarities to that of 2010 and earlier. These big-picture numbers tend to remain in the same ballpark from year to year.

For example, the number of total volunteers remained more or less steady, increasing from 62.8 million to 64.3 million. Additionally, the volunteer rate in 2011 was identical to that in 2009 (26.8%).

In terms of state and city rankings, the major players are pretty much the same – Utah topped the list again, with Iowa and Minnesota also making appearances in the top five. Minneapolis was once again the most volunteer-y big city, with Seattle, Rochester and Salt Lake City also earning top spots.

Finally, the pattern of generational engagement in 2011 also looks very similar to 2010. Millennials, Gen Xer’s, Boomers and Older Adults all volunteered at basically the same rates as 2010, and Gen Xers were the most engaged once again, followed by Boomers, then Older Adults, and finally those self-absorbed Millennials.

Diving Deeper to Get Data for Your Organization

If the big picture of volunteering doesn’t change much from year to year, perhaps zooming in to check things out on a smaller scale will be helpful for organizations using this data to inform volunteer engagement efforts.

Using the well-built website, you can drill down to your nearest big city, your gender, your age and your organization’s cause area. Think about what the trends from 2011 in those smaller categories can tell you about how to engage volunteers moving forward in 2013. Here are some examples:


In terms of volunteer rates, Idaho’s ranking jumped from #9 to #2 between 2010 and 2011. The hours per volunteer, however, were the same. This means that more people are volunteering in Idaho. While all of the age groups saw a jump in volunteer rates, the biggest by far was in the Older Adults category. Clearly, something in Idaho is causing older adults to get more involved in volunteering. It may be in the water, but chances are it’s a government program, or increased financial aid for organizations that serve and engage older adults.

Learn from this bright spot! If your organization is in Idaho, consider how your nonprofit can reap some of these benefits and more aggressively engage older adults.

Portland, OR and Jacksonville, FL

Portland’s rankings in terms of volunteer rates dropped from #8 to #16, while Jacksonville jumped from #18 to #5. Neither of them have very high hours per resident, so there is a lot of one-time volunteering happening in these cities.

Perhaps Jacksonville has implemented some new civic engagement programs – is your organization aware of these, and participating? If your nonprofit is in Portland and has been having difficulty engaging volunteers, this data suggests that the problem could be larger than your organization’s strategies. It might be helpful to connect with other groups and see what their experiences have been.


While none of the generations saw a dramatic increase in volunteering from 2010 to 2011, Boomers did have a small bump in volunteer rate from 28.8% to 29.3%. Maybe the slow and meandering economic recovery is beginning to allow some of these Boomers to retire, and/or to spend more of their time volunteering. Either way, this small rise is evidence that Boomers are still, and will continue to be, an important target group for involving volunteers for your organization.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Volunteering and Civic Life in America data and report, stay tuned for a special Nonprofit Insights webinar over the next few months with the team at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

What does your data deep dive into tell you about engaging volunteers? Share it below!

(Photo from Ilse Reijs and Jan Noud-Hutten on Flickr.)