Editor’s Note: This article is part of CNN’s Champions For Change series which highlights the men and women who leave a lasting impression and continue to make a difference today. For more, check out cnn.com/champions
More Americans than ever before are volunteering.
The latest statistics released by the Corporation for National and Community Service show the US is riding a wave of generosity driven by millions of people who freely offer their time, labor, and expertise.
Overall, 77.4 million Americans volunteered 6.9 billion hours in 2017, the most recent figures available. That’s worth an estimated value of nearly $167 billion, according to independent figures.
The survey – taken by the US Census Bureau on behalf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and released in November 2018 – shows that 30.3%, or nearly one-third of adult Americans volunteer at least once a year. That’s a hefty increase of more than 6 percentage points over the previous year.
Volunteering strengthens the foundation of any neighborhood or community – magnifying the ability to perform good works and contribute to the greater good, advocates say.
The simple act of volunteering creates social momentum that increases a volunteer’s desire to engage fully with his or her community, say experts who study volunteerism.
According to the survey, volunteers donated to charity at double the rate of non-volunteers. Twice as often as not, volunteers performed favors for neighbors.
The survey covers Americans age 16 and older who aren’t institutionalized or on active duty in the military. About 60,000 households (about 100,000 adults) participated in the survey.
So who are these Americans who volunteer?
- The largest age group for volunteers was Generation X, according to the survey
- The volunteer rate for women is higher than men
- The most generous state in America is Utah, which boasts the highest percentage of volunteers in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Let’s dig deeper into the data and learn more about these people who donate their time.
How are people volunteering?
Overall, survey data shows the largest percentage of volunteer activity involves fundraising or selling items to raise money (35.97%). Collecting, prepping, distributing or serving food ranked number two at 34.22%.
Types of volunteer groups
The highest percentage of volunteers worked within religious organizations (32%). Sport, hobby, culture or arts groups ranked second (25.70%). Educational groups ranked third (19.21%).
Does age matter?
There are reasons why volunteering seems to be more prevalent among certain age groups, said Mark Snyder, a professor at the University of Minnesota, who has researched the psychology of volunteerism for years.
In this most recent survey, Americans who define themselves as Generation X – those born between about 1966 and 1980 – had the highest volunteer rate of any age group: 36.4%.
When it comes to younger people, Snyder said career goals usually outweigh desires to volunteer. “But when you get people who are approaching retirement age, career considerations aren’t so important,” he said. “What you see is a sense of volunteering as an act of citizenship and … leaving a legacy behind.”
That analysis bears out in this survey. Baby boomers – those born between about 1946 and 1965 – said they volunteered the most time: more than 2.2 billion hours, total.
Although millennials were the age group that volunteered the least amount – with a rate of 28.2% – they are volunteering more than they used to.
Volunteering among the millennial generation – those born in the 1980s and ‘90s – has increased more than 6 percentage points since 2016.
Who volunteers more, men or women?
Women volunteer at higher percentage rates. Nearly 34% of women, compared to 26.5% of men, the survey said.
Women also volunteer in greater numbers. 44.6 million women versus 32.7 million men, nationwide.
The survey indicates that parents have a relatively high rate of volunteerism: 39.9%.
Interestingly, working parents have a higher rate of volunteering than all parents: mothers volunteer at a rate of 43.2% and working mothers at 46.7%, with fathers at 35.7% and working fathers at 36.6%.
Which states have the highest percentage of volunteers?
According to CNCS statistics grouped by state, residents of Utah appear to throw themselves into volunteering the most. They topped all 50 US states — with 51% of respondents saying they volunteered.
Minnesota ranked second with 45.1%. Oregon, Iowa and Alaska rounded out the top five.
Florida sits at the bottom of the volunteer rankings: 22.8% of residents there who took the survey said they took time to volunteer.
Most and least volunteering cities
What about the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the US?
According to the CNCS data, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area ranked first in the survey, at 46.3%.
Rochester, New York, ranked second with 45.6%. The metro area of Salt Lake City, Utah ranked third, with 45%. At the bottom of the list, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida metro area ranked 50th, with 18.7%.
What motivates people to volunteer?
Volunteering can bring certain personal side benefits, Snyder says, depending on each person’s motivation. Those benefits include gaining career contacts or making friends.
In fact, volunteers who’ve been unemployed are 27% more likely to find a job than non-volunteers, according to the survey. That trend is especially true for volunteers without high school diplomas – they are 51% more likely to find employment.
The survey said volunteering increases the chances of finding employment regardless of where you live or your age, ethnicity or the job market.
For some, volunteering may boost self-esteem. It may help people feel better about themselves because they may see that their problems aren’t as bad as the people they’re helping.
Overall, Snyder said, the most enthusiastic volunteers tend to keep volunteering because they’ve found a way to bring together two things: the satisfaction of doing good for other people along with gaining something for themselves.
And that, he said, is “essentially a win-win situation.”