Do We Really Need to Volunteer?

62.6 Million Americans volunteered to help others in 2016. This came to 7.8 Billion hours which is the equivalent of $184 Billion. Volunteers, who were unemployed, had 27% higher odds of finding a job after being out of work than non-volunteers according to the Corporation of National & Community Service. This could possibly be due to developing new skills and expanding personal networks. 80% of volunteers donate money to charities compared to 40% of non-volunteers, which means volunteers are twice as likely to donate to a cause. As a benchmark, half of Americans donated at least $25 to charity.

Generation X (40-50 years old) has the highest volunteer rate of all age groups at 29%, which are 19.9 Million volunteers. Baby Boomers were in second place at 25.7% with 19.2 Million volunteers, followed by older adults at 23.5% and 11 Million, then Millennials (22-39 years old) at 21.9% with 16.9 Million volunteers. As would be expected, parents volunteer at the rate of 31.3% or 21 Million volunteers. Women, at the rate of 27.8%, outshine men who volunteer at 21.8%, the lowest of any group.

There is a huge difference by state on how we volunteer. The #1 state by far is Utah with 43.2% of the population being volunteers, while in last place is Louisiana with an 18.4% volunteer rate. Minnesota (35.4%), Wisconsin (35.3%), South Dakota (35.3%) and Idaho (34.1%) round out the top 5 states with the highest volunteer rate. Big cities are led by Minneapolis (37.1%), followed by Salt Lake City (36.0%), then Milwaukee (33.2%) and Washington DC (33.1%). Mid-size cities are led by Ogden, UT (50.9%), Provo, UT (49.6%), Madison, WI (40.4%), Iowa City, IA (38.4%) and Portland, ME (38.4%).

Why do people volunteer? Energize Inc. reports that many 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. "Doing good" has been embedded in us since our formative years. Upsetting news stories on many issues we cannot influence or control bombard us daily, so volunteering becomes a proactive way of helping our neighborhood, community and the world. People volunteer to be needed, share a skill, get to know their community, to demonstrate a commitment to a cause or belief, gain leadership skills, or even due to pressure from a relative or friend.

Each volunteer's story is unique. Volunteers who work in hospitals contribute to better health. Those who coach youth sports want to influence children to understand teamwork and become more active. Volunteers teaching illiterate adults to read want to better their students' lives. In natural and manmade military disasters, those who volunteer bring hope and strength to victims at their worst. Volunteerism can bring us together even at the most divisive times. NPR ran a story last month about the nonprofit organization Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly, who work to relieve isolation and loneliness among seniors by pairing them with volunteers. Emotional isolation is linked to serious health problems in older adults like memory loss, strokes, heart disease and high blood pressure. 17% of adults over 65 are isolated and there is a 26% increase in risk of death due to feeling lonely. 51% of people age 75 and older do live alone. Little Brothers have 21,000 volunteers serving socially isolated elders.

Local volunteer groups are the backbone of our society. Smart is an Oregon based nonprofit organization that provides community volunteers to read one-on-one with pre-kindergarten through third-grade students in Head Start and elementary schools and gives up to 14 new books for children to take home and share with their families. Over the years, they have had 125,000 volunteers help kids. Budget Buddies in Massachusetts, pair homeless women with volunteer female mentors who help them through 6 months of workshops, training them to learn core money-management skills designed to making them economically self-sufficient. What is going to be your story?

If you want to volunteer, but don't know how, go to Points of Light, which has 250 volunteer action centers matching 2.6 million volunteers to 250,000 different nonprofit initiatives. Or visit Volunteer Match, which connects 111,525 organizations with millions of people who want to help animals, children, the homeless, their community, education and many more worthy causes. And at DollarDays we are giving away five $500 shopping sprees to individuals who volunteer or nonprofit organizations that serve others, so make sure you nominate your favorite volunteer or nonprofit group.

Volunteering to help our neighbors has been around since the founding of our country. Benjamin Franklin 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. He believed "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 value. It is who we are and how we pass caring and freedom to the next generation. Through this great new tool of social media, if we can convince our kids, our friends and our neighbors that helping others is in a sense helping ourselves can you imagine the impact on our country if we can just get another 10% of our fellow Americans to volunteer? Community service is not political and it is not mandated by the state. It is something that comes from deep within our core values.