(Photo by Flickr user Daniel Thornton, used via a Creative Commons license)
The number of Americans contributing time and money to community organizations dropped to its lowest point in 13 years in 2015, according to an October report from the University of Maryland’s Do Good Institute.
That’s despite record-high rates of total volunteer hours and total charitable dollars — 8.7 billion hours in 2014 and $410 billion in 2017, respectively.
Some other key finding from the report:
- In 2015, 24.9 percent of Americans volunteered their time — a historic low.
- The volunteer rate reached an all-time peak of 28.8 percent in 2003, 2004 and 2005; the report mentions the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as a factor.
- The percentage of Americans giving to charity also declined each year, from 66.8 percent in 2000 to 55.5 percent in 2014.
But Jeanette Bavwidinsi, volunteer engagement coordinator in the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service (OCEVS), said this drop may have more to do with an evolving definition of “service” than anything else — and that there’s actually been an uptick in civic engagement among Philadelphians in recent years, as tracked by her office.
“If you’re saying you’re only ‘serving’ if you’re feeding those who are housing insecure or you’re doing a cleanup, you’re leaving out the people who shovel for their neighbors and you’re leaving out the kids that collect books for pre-K students,” she said during an interview about choosing an impactful Martin Luther King Jr. Day volunteer experience. “What we’ve done [in OCEVS] is we’ve made sure we are being inclusive of what people are saying that they’re doing to serve.”
Bavwidinsi added that the internet has played a role in increasing cross-sector volunteer service by informing community members about causes they can support in their own neighborhoods.
“We’ve had a ton of people want to volunteer to help with the Resilience Project in Kensington,” she said. “Unless we were [already] aware of current events and the state of what’s going on in our own city, we would’ve never seen that as a volunteer opportunity three months ago, but all of a sudden because of awareness and people willing to help their fellow Philadelphians, now there’s a sustainable service opportunity.”