Volunteering and religion

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volunteer.jpgYesterday’s annual report on volunteering in America was promoted by the White House (press release after jump) to highlight the unsurprising fact that a lot of volunteerism is connected to religious institutions–one-third, to be precise.

But the relationship between religion and volunteerism is not simple, as the report’s rankings demonstrate. The high rankings in Utah (#1) and the Upper Midwest point to the emphasis on volunteer service in Mormonism and Lutheranism. At the same time, states with the lowest rates of religious adherence–Vermont, Washington, Oregon–also rank high in volunteerism. At the other end of the scale, it’s clear that the relatively low priority placed by evangelicalism on good works (as opposed to the Great Commission) helps explain the relatively low rankings of the Southern states.

Of course, there are factors besides religion at work here. A sparse population tends to encourage volunteerism, while an historically high level of public services seems to discourage it. The point is, faith-based volunteering is not an undifferentiated exercise.





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CONTACT: Sandy Scott

July 28,
202/606-6724; [email protected]


Study Shows One-Third of America’s Volunteers

Serve through Religious Organizations

(Washington DC.) — Faith-based
organizations have a profound impact on volunteering in the United States,
according to a report released today by the Corporation for National and
Community Service.


The Volunteering in America 2009
report found that more than one third of America’s 61.8 million volunteers
(35.9%) served with or through a religious organization in 2008, more than any
other type of organization.  


“Using this information,
nonprofit organizations can work to create new partnerships focusing on
volunteer service,” said Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House
Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “There are millions of
volunteers who want to be a part of critical efforts from mentoring children to
improving schools to helping their neighbors meet their basic needs. The
President has called upon all of us to join together in these difficult times,
and this report highlights the possibilities of doing just that.”


Previous research from the
Corporation found that volunteers who serve with faith-based organizations are
the most likely to continue serving.  Seventy percent of volunteers who
serve primarily through religious organizations continue serving from year to
year, higher than any other type of organization. Despite the popularity of
volunteering through faith-based organizations, only about 15 percent of
nonprofit charities report partnerships with faith-based organizations. 


“Religious organizations are
a key source of potential volunteers for nonprofit organizations,” said Nicola
Goren, the Corporation’s acting CEO. “Nonprofits looking to expand their reach
and impact may find it beneficial to work more closely with religious
organizations in their communities, especially in these tough economic times.”


The 2009 report found that
even during an economic downturn, when charitable giving experienced a
significant drop, volunteering remained steady. Volunteering in America 2009,
the most comprehensive data ever assembled on volunteer trends and
demographics, found that a total of 61.8 million Americans volunteered through
an organization in 2008, up one million from the previous year.  Those
volunteers dedicated more than 8 billion hours of service worth an estimated $162


To make it easier for
Americans to volunteer, the Corporation worked with the White House to launch a
new Serve.gov website in June. At
Serve.gov, organizations can post their needs, and potential volunteers can
find local opportunities simply by entering their zip codes. The site includes
do-it-yourself toolkits with instructions for finding and filling local needs,
and a blog featuring stories of service from people all across the country.


“Volunteering in America
2009” is based on data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor
Statistics through a “volunteering supplement” to the Current Population Survey
from 2002 to 2008. Volunteers are defined as persons who did unpaid work
through or for an organization. The report includes information for all 50
states, Washington DC, and 198 cities, including 51 large cities, 75 mid-size
cities, and 72 additional cities, based on Metropolitan Statistical
Areas.  This information includes the volunteer rate; the types of
organizations through which residents serve; their main volunteering
activities, the average hours per year and volunteer rates for age and gender
demographic groups, and key trends and highlights.


The Corporation for National
and Community Service is a federal agency that each year engages four million
Americans of all ages and backgrounds through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and
Learn and Serve America programs. For more information, visit NationalService.gov.