Volunteer Hours Now Worth $167 Billion Annually

It seems that Millennials get blamed for everything lately: killing the retail store, declining homeownership rates, spending on avocado toast instead of saving for retirement. But Millennials might be responsible for finally reviving the volunteer rate in the United States, which had been declining for years.

The number of Americans who volunteered in 2018 jumped by almost one-quarter compared to two years ago and the volunteer rate eclipsed 30 percent of adults for the first time since data has been collected.

Volunteering in America 2018, a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, estimates that 77.3 million people volunteered in 2017. That would be 23-percent increase compared to the 62.6 million volunteers in 2015, the last time the report was issued.

Since the previous report, the overall volunteer rate increased by more than 6 percent. Based on Independent Sector’s 2017 estimate of $24.14 for the average value of a volunteer hour, the estimated value of volunteer service for the 6.9 billion volunteer hours was nearly $167 billion.

The CNCS data released on Tuesday comes out the same week as a study by the Do Good Institute chronicled the decline of the volunteer rate over the past 15 years.

The jump in the volunteer rate in 2017 was unprecedented in national statistics on the volunteer rate, said Nathan Dietz, associate research scholar at the Do Good Institute of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. “We’re in such early stages of trying to get to the bottom” of why there was such a big change between 2015 and 2017, he said “I don’t think we really know much until we get a closer look at the data,” he said.

The Do Good Institute released its own study, chronicling the decline in volunteers and volunteer rates over the past decade or more. The study, “Where Are America’s Volunteers? A Look at America’s Widespread Decline in Volunteering in Cities and States,” was co-authored by Dietz with Robert Grimm, the Levenson Family Chair in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and director of Do Good Institute.

It used historical data from CNCS studies on volunteering. The national volunteer rate bottomed out at a 15-year low of 24.9 percent in 2015. It reached a historical peak of 28.8 percent from 2003 to 2005 before its first significant decline in 2006, falling to 26.7 percent.

Thirty-one states experienced “significant declines” in volunteering between 2004 and 2015 while not one state saw an increase in volunteering over that time.

As part of a revised survey and process, CNCS data now will be released every two years, according to Samantha Jo Warfield, a spokeswoman for the CNCS. The new report combined the volunteer and civic supplements, which previously were done separately, with volunteer done every year and civic done every.

While the revised survey instrument might have had some impact, Warfield said the questions and collection method are the same, she said, so they’re confident in comparing the two reports.

Millennials were the first generation to experience service-learning while students, Warfield said. “Volunteers stay volunteers, so if one learns service early in life, that’s a civic habit easy to continue,” she said. “We see this with our MLK Day of Service. For many young people, volunteering is synonymous with MLK Day, because it’s all they’ve known. Those born before the holiday became a day of service may not have such a strong correlation.”

The Millennial generation — born between about 1980 and 1995 — is projected to outnumber Baby Boomers by next year to become the largest living adult generation, according to Pew Research. And many are now entering a key philanthropic stage of their lives, with the oldest approaching 40 and starting families.

Nathan Dietz

“We’re in such early stages of trying to get to the bottom of why there would have seen such a big change between 2015 and 2017, I don’t think we really know much until we get a closer look at the data.” – Nathan Dietz

Trends for volunteering often follow a lifecycle, Warfield said. The volunteer rate peaks when they are most connected, “when they have more skin in the game,” she said, and “more likely to be asked.” A family with young children might be more connected to their school, church, children’s sports teams, or their neighborhood. “That’s why the volunteer rate is highest for working mothers,” Warfield said. “As Millennials enter this period of life, one could expect the numbers to reflect the size of their generation.”

Baby Boomers still constitute the largest demographic as far as sheer number of volunteers but with the next two youngest demographics, Generation X and Millennials, close behind:

• Baby Boomers, 22.631 million

• Generation X, 21.72 million

• Millennials, 19.904 million

• Silent Generation, 6.673 million

• Generation Y, 6.456 million

By volunteer rate, however, Generation X has the highest percentage of volunteers but it was Millennials who saw their volunteer rate jump by more than 6 percent since the last report:

• Generation X, 36.4 percent

• Baby Boomers, 30.7 percent

• Millennials, 28.2 percent

• Generation Y, 26.1 percent

• Silent Generation, 24.8 percent

Thirty-three states, including Washington, D.C., had higher volunteer rates than the national 30.3 percent, led by six states that eclipsed 40 percent:

• Utah, 51 percent

• Minnesota, 45.1 percent

• Oregon, 43.2 percent

• Iowa, 41.5 percent

• Alaska, 40.6 percent

• Nebraska, 40.2 percent

In the bottom five were:

• Florida, 22.8 percent

• Mississippi, 23.8 percent

• Nevada, 24.4 percent

• New York, 25.3 percent

• California, 25.4 percent

The median rate among states, including D.C., was Massachusetts at 32.6 percent.

The top metro areas were:

• Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wisc., 46.3 percent

• Rochester, N.Y., 45.6 percent

• Salt Lake City, Utah, 45 percent

• Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wisc., 44.6 percent

• Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore.- Wash., 44.3 percent

The volunteer rate among females was 33.8 percent compared with 26.5 percent for males. There were 44.614 million female volunteers, about 57 percent of the overall total. They contributed 3.9 billion hours of service, with an estimated total value of $94.5 billion.

There were 32.77 million male volunteers, about 42 percent of the total, who contributed about 3 billion hours of service for an estimate value of $72.4 billion.

Volunteers donated to charity at twice the rate of non-volunteers. More than half of all citizens (52.2 percent) donated to charity last year.

Parents volunteer at rates nearly 48 percent higher than non-parents, at 39.9 percent and totaling more than 26 million volunteers. Working mothers give more time than any other demographic, with a volunteer rate of 46.7 percent. Veterans volunteer at a rate of 30 percent, at more than 5.65 million total, with veterans in New Hampshire and Virginia volunteering more than in other states.

Data for the CNC report are collected through a supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS): the Civic Engagement and Volunteering Supplement. The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households, or about 100,000 adults, conducted by the Census Bureau on behalf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Selected supplements collect data on the volunteering, voting, and civic activities of adults age 16 and older.

Volunteers are considered individuals who performed unpaid volunteer activities through or for an organization at any point during the 12-month period, Sept. 1 of the prior year through the survey week in September.

Millions more Americans are supporting friends and family (43.1 percent) and doing favors for their neighbors (51.4 percent), suggesting that many are engaged in acts of “informal volunteering,” according to CNCS.

Americans most frequently gave their time to religious groups, 32 percent, and more than a quarter (25.7 percent) volunteered most often with sports or arts groups; another one in five supported education or youth service groups.