July 25, 2024

National Council on Citizenship Reports Civic Depression

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Although this study was released in August 2009, the information gleaned from this survey is as relevant as ever.

A study released in August 2009 by the National Council on Citizenship (NCOC) indicates that Americans began reducing their volunteer hours when the unemployment rate hit 9 to 10 percent.

According to David B. Smith, NCOC executive director, “Prior recessions have prompted an increase in volunteerism, but only to the point that the unemployment rate reaches a “threshold.”  Smith said, “People have moved from saying, ‘this is the time to rise up and help my community,’ to ‘times are really tough and I need to focus on making sure my family has what it needs to get through this hard time.'”

This study is  in contrast to information reported earlier in the year by the Corporation for National and Community Service which indicated a rise in volunteerism.

Smith said, “Growing need usually encourages more engagement. But when economic pressures on individuals and organization become too great, people turn inward.”

  • 72% of individuals surveyed said that they cut back on time spent volunteering.
  • 66% said that people are responding to the current economic downturn by looking out for themselves.
  • 19% said people around them are responding to the recession by helping each other more.

The economic crisis has triggered civic foreclosure,” said Michael Weiser, NCoC Chairman, “The good heart of Americans is still very evident, though, as they refocus on basic needs.” Even though they are disproportionately affected by the economic downturn, low-income Americans are still finding ways to give back. Thirty-nine percent of individuals with an income less than $50,000 reported helping others by providing food or shelter, compared to 27% of Americans with a higher income.
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Why Volunteers Stop Serving

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In spite of the economic downturn, many individuals continue to serve in their communities–helping their neighbors and organizing service projects.

In  2008, 61.8 million adults donated approximately 8 billion hours of time, and yet, over one-third of these individuals (35.5%) stopped volunteering and did not serve with any organization the following year.  This high rate of volunteer turnover has forced nonprofits to focus on replacing volunteers instead of maximizing impact and building organizational capacity.

A July 2009 report titled Pathways to Service posted on Volunteering In America identified five barriers that may keep individuals from volunteering or returning to service.

Key Findings

1.  Personal invitations to serve are more appealing to prospective volunteers.

Many individuals said they had never volunteered because they had never been asked. These same non-volunteers also said that if they were asked, they would be open to volunteering.

Organizations need to address this misconception in order to effectively recruit new volunteers.  Having existing volunteers share their stories can help non-volunteers see that they are just like those who serve.
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GuideStar Survey: Hard Times for Charitable Organizations

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Last November, when we reported on the results of our annual nonprofit economic survey, we warned, “Fasten Your Seatbelts: It’s Going to Be a Bumpy Giving Season.” As 2008 ended and 2009 began, we saw a deluge of news reports about the economy’s impact, including its effect on nonprofits. Given the severity of the downturn and the number of stories about organizations adversely affected by it, we decided to do a follow-up nonprofit economic survey.

We invited Newsletter subscribers associated with 501(c)(3) public charities and private foundations to participate in the survey. Readers representing 2,979 organizations took the survey on-line between March 2 and March 16, 2009. Here’s what they told us.

Bumpy Giving Season and New Year, Indeed

We asked, “Did total contributions to your organization increase, decrease, or stay about the same between October 2008 and February 2009, compared to the same period a year earlier?” Some 52 percent of organizations reported a decrease. That figure was significantly higher than the 35 percent who reported lower contributions for January-September 2008, which was nearly double the 19 percent who reported a decline for January-September 2007

Change in Contributions

Period Covered by SurveyContributions DecreasedContributions Stayed about the SameContributions IncreasedDon’t Know
October 2008-February 200952%27%20%1%
January-September 200835%25%38%2%
January-September 200719%25%52%4%

Some 31 percent of organizations stated that contributions had dropped “modestly,” and 21 percent said that they had fallen “greatly.” An equal number-71 percent-of organizations for which contributions had dropped cited “Gifts from individuals were smaller” and “Fewer individuals gave” as causes of the decrease.

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Giving Is Good For Your Health

Non Profit Consulting and Training - Wendy Biro-Pollard

During times of economic downturn, you may have to dig a bit deeper into your pockets to make charitable contributions. However, you can still end up better off. In addition to the tax breaks giving can bring, as it turns out, giving is also good for your health.

“Several studies over the years have found links between altruistic behavior and improved physical and psychological health,” says Dr. Ann Vincent, an internal medicine physician at Mayo Clinic who researches the mind-body connection. “In general, I think altruism makes people feel better about themselves, which often translates into improved physical health. Other benefits that have been attributed to positive emotions include: enhanced creativity and ability to cope with stress and broadened cognition. In essence, thinking positively about ourselves is good for our physical and mental health.”

But the benefits of giving, whether in the form of volunteerism or making a donation, aren’t just a one-time deal. The more you give, the better you may feel, and that means finding ways to give back throughout the year. Generosity is also a wonderful survival skill to help you get through difficult times in your life.

“Recent studies have examined individuals who have survived trauma, natural disasters and being prisoners of war,” says Dr. Edward T. Creagan, an oncologist at Mayo Clinic. According to Creagan, people who seem to thrive in adversity have many characteristics in common, but especially a few:

  • A sense of connectedness. The recognition that family and community are crucial to survival.
  • A sense of altruism, somehow sharing of themselves to make the lives of others a little bit better.
  • An optimistic attitude and sense of humor.

If you have trouble motivating yourself to give time, money or goods, focus on how giving back can benefit you. “There is a ‘helper’s high’ that people sometimes say they feel in connection with altruism/philanthropy,” says Vincent. “But that initial euphoria is also sometimes followed by a longer-lasting period of improved emotional well-being.”

Philanthropy can also have positive effects that help people maintain or improve their physical and mental health. It often creates broader social networks, which can help people cope with stress and anxiety, and it can provide a sense of purpose and empowerment.

The emotional and physical benefits of philanthropy may be even more significant right now. Nonprofit organizations everywhere are increasingly looking for charitable individuals to partner with them in their goals for the future. Mayo Clinic, a not-for-profit organization, is one of the world’s premier medical treatment and research facilities and is currently conducting a campaign to transform patient care, research and education. The gifts Mayo Clinic receives now will help people today, as well as benefit future generations of patients and medical professionals.

For more information on how giving can make a life-changing impact, visit http://www.mayoclinic.org/campaign.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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