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.

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