The Chicken, the Egg, Volunteering, and Employment

How are volunteering and employment linked?It’s not often we dive into data here. Stories of impact are so much more inspiring, and tips and tools are so much more useful. However, sometimes it’s necessary to haul out numbers to glean relevant insights about volunteering and nonprofits.

In this case, I’m not going to dive in headfirst – merely dip my toes in. I was curious about the nuggets to be found in the most recent “Volunteering & Civic Life in America” report released by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). It’s actually pretty easy to get caught up in this survey data, especially when comparing the volunteering information from different geographic areas.

For example, here are the cities with the top 10 volunteer rates in 2012:

  1. Minneapolis
  2. Rochester
  3. Milwaukee
  4. Seattle
  5. Salt Lake City
  6. Portland
  7. Washington, D.C.
  8. St. Louis
  9. Charlotte
  10. San Francisco (hooray!)

I thought it might be illuminating to compare this data to the most recent unemployment information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. After all, the economy is the top priority for pretty much all of us, but especially for nonprofits that depend on the generosity and sustainability of the public. What I found is…interesting?

Of the cities that have the highest volunteering rates, only one of them (St. Louis) is above the national average in unemployment. In other words, most of the cities that are great at volunteering appear to have stronger than average economies.

Additionally, when I compared historical data from CNCS’s report, I discovered that the three cities on the list above that have dramatically lower unemployment rates than most others (Minneapolis, Rochester and Salt Lake City) have all been ranked in the top five for volunteering rates for the past few years.

What does this mean?

Well, it certainly suggests that there’s some sort of connection between volunteering and strong economic recovery. Of course, we shouldn’t get too excited yet:

Recently the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual “Volunteering in the United States” report, a supplement to the Current Population Survey. The data shows that in 2013, employed folks volunteered more than unemployed. So are these cities strong because they volunteer, or do they volunteer because their economies are strong? Is it the chicken or the egg?

One thing is certain: more data is needed. I won’t try to trick you into following me down the black hole of correlation vs. causation. But it does seem clear that volunteering and healthy economies, in some way, go hand in hand. And that makes me happy.

Books, Volunteers, and Creating Inspiration on Two Continents

Chris Bradshaw and the African Library ProjectWhat if you had never had access to books when you were young? (This includes e-books on tablets, too.) How would your life be different now? How would YOU be different?

Africa has the highest percentage of illiteracy in the world, and many African teachers have to teach reading, writing, math and English without even a single book to use as a resource. Meanwhile, U.S. shelves and landfills overflow with discarded books.

Enter Chris Bradshaw and her nonprofit organization, African Library Project.

The African Library Project engages volunteers to collect books for libraries in African countries.Chris realized the massive need for books in Africa, and she discovered she had a way to help. The books so many people in the U.S. simply get rid of could be used to educate an entire continent.

Since its beginning, African Library Project has been a grassroots organization. It has always depended on the generosity and leadership of volunteers across the country. In fact, the organization itself is completely volunteer-run – the board meets around Chris’s dining room table.

Read more about Chris and African Library Project, and how volunteers are the magic ingredient that bring books and learning to people a world away – and inspiration to us all right here.

College Students + Food = Helping the Homeless

Picture this: Breakfast, lunch and dinner college students pile into their dining halls, swiping their student card to buy their meals. These “swipes” expire at the end of each term, and many students find themselves with leftover swipes that go unused and wasted.

So let them expire! What’s the big deal? These wasted swipes mean wasted food and money, and the organization Swipes for the Homeless has found a way to fix this.

Recently, VolunteerMatch intern Nicole Villanueva interviewed Rachel Sumekh, the current executive director of Swipes for the Homeless.

Swipes as an organization holds its volunteers dear. The chapters are run entirely by student volunteers who organize projects and get university administration on board to transform their dining dollars for good.

In between all their studies and extracurriculars, these students are able to help out and contribute to social change. They are crucial in establishing the grassroots support for a chapter.

Read more about Swipes for the Homeless and the student volunteers who turn their unused dining dollars into food for those who need it most.

Fighting Hunger Together, We Really Made a Difference

Together, VolunteerMatch and the Walmart Foundation created millions of dollars in social value to help more Americans get the nutrition they need and fight hunger.The problem of hunger often seems insurmountable. 1 in 6 people in the U.S. are going hungry, according to Feeding America. Given today’s economic climate, and all of the other issues we face, it can seem like a herculean task to make a dent in the hunger that plagues our country’s most vulnerable.

Together, however, we have done it. Recently VolunteerMatch completed a two-year partnership with the Walmart Foundation’s Fighting Hunger Together Initiative, to support the work of nonprofits that are fighting hunger. Our goals for the campaign were:

  • To provide hunger-relief organizations the resources they need to deploy, manage and expand an effective volunteer program;
  • To make it easier to support, provide training, and share best practices among volunteer managers; and
  • To increase visibility within the community of the need for volunteers at hunger-related organizations.

We are very proud of the work we did, supported by the Walmart Foundation, to accomplish these goals. So we created an infographic to tell everyone about it. Here are some highlights before you dive in:

  • We facilitated 112,000 connections between hunger-related nonprofits and eager volunteers.
  • We trained more than 3,000 volunteer coordinators so that they can more effectively recruit the volunteers they need.
  • We created over $171 million in social value that is helping more Americans get the nutrition they need.

Take a look at the infographic, and share with friends and colleagues. Together, we can continue to make a big difference for causes like hunger!

Click here to view the infographic showing the impact made during VolunteerMatch's partnership with the Walmart Foundation's Fighting Hunger Together initiative.

The 13 Most Popular Posts of 2013

Happy New Year from VolunteerMatch! Here are the most popular blog posts of 2013.Top ten lists are so three years ago – so to mark the end of 2013, and to make sure you begin 2014 armed with as much wisdom, advice and share-able content as possible, here are the 13 most popular blog articles about volunteer engagement from 165 Engaging Volunteers posts published in 2013:


13. How to Donate, Volunteer and Be Prepared After the Boston Marathon Bombings

12. 3 Creative Ways to Engage Volunteers during the Holiday Season

11. 5 Ways to Engage Millennials on Social Media

10. 6 Ways Nonprofits Can Prevent Volunteer Burnout

This is the hands down winner for best photo accompanying a blog post in 2013.

Hands-down winner for cutest photo accompanying a blog post in 2013.

9. When a Volunteer Tells You “No”

8. 4 Reasons This National Volunteer Week is Like No Other

7. 5 Ways to Engage Current and Future Volunteers with Facebook

6. The Selfish Side of Serving

5. 8 Nonprofit Resources You Might Not Know About

4. 5 Ways to Make Pinterest Work for Your Nonprofit

3. With a New Recommendations Engine, Volunteering Becomes More Local and More Personal

2. 10 Great Movies about Volunteering and Giving Back

1. It’s a Brave New Volunteering World, Now with Personal Profiles

Happy New Year!