Unlike the 141 billionaires who have pledged to give away at least half of their wealth to charity through the "Giving Pledge," an effort started by philanthropists Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates, most of us don't have the big extra dollars to help out our favorite charities. So the vast majority of Americans need to help by volunteering their services instead.
According to the Corporation for National Community Service, 25.3 percent of Americans volunteer, which is 62.8 million volunteers. They average 32.1 volunteer hours per person, per year, which comes to 7.9 billion hours of service, the equivalent of $184 billion. In addition, 50.5 percent of Americans donate $25 or more to charity annually.
Volunteering to help religious activities accounts for 34 percent of all volunteer hours. Education welcomes 26 percent, social services, 15 percent, health related fields garner 8 percent, civic duty receives 5 percent, while sports and the arts are each 4 percent. What is encouraging is that all ages volunteer, so the ethics of volunteering is being passed down from generation to generation. Volunteers under 24 years old account for 22.6 percent of all volunteers, while ages 25-44 are 26.7 percent, ages 45-64 are 27.4 percent and those over 65 account for 23.6 percent.
The discouraging number though is the discrepancy of volunteer participation throughout the states. While it is encouraging to see Utah with a volunteer rate of 46 percent of the population, followed by Idaho at 35.8 percent, Wisconsin at 35.4 percent, Minnesota at 35.3 percent and Kansas at 35.1 percent; it is quite disheartening to see Florida at 20.1 percent, Nevada at 19.4 percent, New York at 19.2 percent and Louisiana with only 17.4 percent volunteering. The best city is Salt Lake City at 37.5 percent while the worst bigger city is Miami at 14 percent.
Why do people volunteer? Energize Inc. reports that most people find themselves in need at some point in their lives, so today you may be the person with the ability to help and tomorrow you may be the recipient of another's volunteer effort. This is one reason our society volunteers. Another reason is "doing good" has been embedded in us since we began grade school. Every day we are bombarded with disheartening news stories of which most issues we cannot influence or control. So volunteering becomes a proactive way of doing something to make the world a better place where we can actually help our community and others. A third reason people volunteer is to do something they love, whether they are a gardener helping to clean up a blight in their city or a carpenter helping to build or repair a home. Volunteering can help new people in a community make new friends who share their interests and values. It can also can help you polish your resume with a commitment to help others, work in a new type of environment and help develop new skills, either hands-on skills or leadership expertise.
Each volunteer's story is unique. The Arizona Republic recently reported about Keith Colson of Phoenix, who was part of volunteer groups as a youth and wanted to teach his son the same values which began by giving food to the homeless people on street corners together. They then volunteered for years at The Salvation Army where he met another volunteer who recently became his wife. Reader's Digest told the story of Austen Pearce of Maricopa, Ariz. who started volunteering at a food bank at age ten and noticed the produce was past its prime. He lobbied his city for a community garden and four years later he is supplying 200 needy families with fresh produce he and other volunteers are growing. What is your story or what is the story you are going to create?
If you want to volunteer but don't know how, go to the Hands On Network which has 250 volunteer action centers matching 2.6 million volunteers to 236,000 different nonprofit initiatives. Or visit Volunteer Match which connects millions of people who want to volunteer to help animals, children, the homeless, their community, education and many more causes. And at DollarDays on our Facebook page, we are giving away $5,000 in products to help volunteers help their favorite cause, so nominate a volunteer or if you are now volunteering, nominate yourself!
Community service is not political and it is not mandated by the state. It is something that comes from deep within our core values. Helping others can be as simple as washing dishes at your local shelter or delivering a meal to an elderly shut in. Can you imagine the impact on our country if just another 10 percent of our friends and neighbors decided to volunteer for a worthy cause?
Benjamin Franklin, one of the most famous early Americans, is also known as the Founding Father of American volunteerism. He gathered volunteers to sweep the streets of Philadelphia, organized the nation's first volunteer fire department, established a voluntary militia and organized a philosophical society. His philosophy was "one served not to save their soul, but to build a strong society." In our modern day society, volunteering still forms the core of the American character. It is who we are and how we pass caring and freedom to the next generation. And it looks like our younger generations are getting the message because they are now volunteering at the same rate as those who are retired. If our kids can convince their friends and neighbors through social media that to help others is in a sense helping ourselves, we can continue to be the most charitable nation, just like our forefathers.