The Lifecycle of a Volunteer

August 25, 2011 | By Liza Casabona | Post a Comment

Many organizations depend on volunteers to keep things running smoothly. Funding is a crucial resource, but it’s not the only resource an organization has to draw from.

During an economic downturn, when money is even tighter than usual, a solid volunteer base can be critically important to an organization’s mission.

According to a recent report from the Corporation for National and Community Service (which knows a thing or two about volunteering), the volunteer rate in 2010 decreased slightly to 26.3 percent compared with a rate of 26.8 percent in 2009, but the number of hours contributed in both years stayed almost the same at 8.1 billion.

The report, Volunteering in America, found that the proportion of volunteers serving 100 hours or more rose to 33.8 percent in 2010 compared with 33.2 percent in 2009. And the median number of hours served by volunteers also increased to 52 per year from 50 per year

CNCS also found that the group of adults known as Generation X (defined by the report as those born between 1965 and 1981) increased their level of commitment to volunteering in 2010 and served a total of 2.3 billion hours, almost 110 million hours more than in 2009.

Full disclosure, I am a member of Gen X. And given that my generation has often been stereotyped as being a cynical or skeptical group, I find it refreshing to see empirical evidence that at least some of my peers are engaging in their communities.

From 1989 to 2010 Gen X members more than doubled their volunteer rate, CNCS said, from 12.3 percent to 29.2 percent. (Note: the survey was only administered to Gen X members over the age of 16.)

CNCS said the trend roughly follows a pattern observed with most generations, something the agency called a “volunteer lifecycle.”

According to CNCS, volunteer rates tend to be higher in teens years than early adulthood, when they typically fall to their lowest point. When individuals are in their mid- to late twenties volunteering rates pick up, peaking around middle age when the rates start to decline again as people age.

It raises some interesting questions about what motivates someone to volunteer and what happens in the life of a volunteer that might impact how often and how seriously they donate their time.

Have those of you with nonprofits noticed a similar lifecycle in your volunteer base? What do volunteers say anecdotally about their reasons for volunteering? If you volunteer, what drives your commitment?

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