November 27, 2020

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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How The Recession Is Affecting US Volunteering

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Unemployed people are spending large amounts of their time volunteering. Recent evidence of this includes:

  • NYC Service had 30% more visitors in February 2009 than in February 2008.
  • The Philadelphia Chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters had a 25% increase in inquires about mentoring from February 2008.
  • The Taproot Foundation, a San Francisco-based organization that places skilled professionals in volunteer positions, had more people sign up on one day earlier this year than in an entire month a year ago.

Benefits of volunteering:

  • Volunteering gives people something to do while job hunting that allows them to feel good about themselves.
  • Volunteering is a way to stay active and stay in touch.
  • Volunteering fills a gap in one’s job history and answers the questions, “What have you been doing?”
  • Volunteering can lead to new job opportunities.
  • Hard economic times give people a renewed sense of compassion and a better understanding of how others are struggling.
  • Volunteering relieves stress from constantly thinking about economic matters.
  • Because of the current economic climate, teens have become more aware of the needs of others and are volunteering.

The impact of increased number of volunteers on nonprofit organizations

  • Smaller organizations without volunteer coordinators are struggling to absorb the influx of volunteers many of whom are highly skilled.
  • Funding cuts can make nonprofits less able to take advantage of volunteer support.

Courtesy of Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Adapted from:

“From Ranks of Jobless, a Flood of Volunteers,” by Julie Bosman, in the New York Times, March 16, 2009

“Some US jobless find hope and solace as volunteers” by Andrew Stern in RUETERS, February 24, 2009.

Related links:

“How Will the Economic Crisis Affect Volunteering”   by Susan Ellis, energizeinc.com, November 2008.

“Turning Down Volunteers”  by MBA Publishing, volunteertoday.com, May 2009.

 

Older Adult Volunteers Bring New Expertise and New Life to Nonprofits

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(ARA) -When Margaret Ross retired from a career in nursing, she had no idea that her new life as a volunteer would lead her right back into healthcare. Neither did Mike Chesnut, whose work building retail partnerships looks a lot like his volunteer service for a group of Denver nonprofits that are fighting homelessness. The same is true for retiree Berlin Hall. Since leaving his accounting executive career, Hall’s desire to help at-risk families led him to volunteer to manage the books for a family services agency.

As they move into roles in service and volunteering, older adults like these are discovering that what they know is just as important as how much time they can give. Their help couldn’t have come at a better time. With demand for nonprofit services skyrocketing, fundraising and revenues are way down. Some experts predict as many as 100,000 nonprofit organizations could run out of money for their programs completely.

The recession has spurred more interest in volunteering among older adults, particularly among boomers, says Jill Friedman Fixler, a nonprofit consultant and co-author of “Boomer Volunteer Engagement.”

“This is a group with abundant skills and profound circles of influence and they believe they can have an impact in their community right now,” she says.

That was the idea for Chesnut. After leaving his job as a retail sales executive with Procter & Gamble, Chesnut, 64, spent several years as a counselor for small business owners. When he moved to Denver a few years ago, he decided to focus on helping nonprofits. As he explored his options, Chesnut was struck by Denver’s homeless problem. Millions of dollars were being spent pulling families out of shelters, but programs that were trying to keep families out of them to begin with were underfunded. After organizing a coalition of local nonprofits, Chesnut began a research project that eventually led to a successful $600,000 grant.

“Coming from the corporate world and working with large retailers, you learn to look for common interest,” he says. “What I did was put numbers to the problem.”

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