Federal Report Finds U.S. Volunteer Rate Increased Over the Last Two Years

U.S. volunteering rates have increased for the second year in a row, according to a new report by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

While not a huge number, the 0.4% increase in U.S. volunteer engagement represents an additional 1.6 million new volunteers. The boost comes on the heels of a smaller gain in 2008. According to CNCS, the two-year trend represents an important reversal in the five-year decline that had occurred from 2003-2007.

Here’s the volunteer rate chart showing the two-year reversal:

And here’s a chart showing the overall number of Americans who reported having volunteered in 2009:

Volunteering In America 2010 is now available at www.volunteeringinamerica.gov, where CNCS highlights findings from the 2009 Census and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s the largest survey of its kind in the world and an important tool for U.S. and local policy makers and researchers, and CNCS has obliged by creating a useful interface for building slides and other useful info-graphics from the data.

Volunteering and the Recession

Among industry folks, this year’s report has been highly anticipated for the light it would shed on two issues: whether volunteer rates would drop during the recession, as they often do, and the so-called  “compassion boom” that many believe has followed the 2008 Presidential election.  As the CNCS press release states:

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.

While more Americans are reporting that they are volunteering, it doesn’t appear as if current volunteers are deepening their engagement. According to the report those respondents who volunteer contributed about the same amount of time in 2009, 34.2 hours,  as they did in 2008.

Here’s the chart of volunteering hours:

“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.”

Who Volunteers the Most

Where there was no surprise was in the annual ranking of leading volunteering communities. For the fifth year in a row, Utah residents reporting volunteering the most by far. Their volunteer rate of 44.2% was followed by Iowa (37.8%), and Minnesota. Iowa moved the most, climbing from the 5th-ranked state last year to the 2nd this year.

Here’s the states top ten:

On a city level, Minneapolis-St. Paul, another repeat winner, ranked number one among large cities at 37.4%, followed by Portland, OR (37.1%), and Salt Lake City, UT (35.8%). Here’s the chart of large cities top ten:

As a final chart to share, Volunteering In America 2010 also includes broad data on the type of work that volunteers are doing. Not surprisingly, fundraising activities are far and away the most common area of operations that U.S. volunteers find themselves involved in.

Here’s the chart of top activities that volunteers are involved in:

One thing for sure is that 2009 was historic in terms of promotions, federal spending and media campaigns to encourage Americans to volunteer. Did it work? U.S. nonprofits: Is volunteering up at your organization? Share your own findings here with us.