Study Examines Volunteerism and Donations

Study Examines Volunteerism and Donations

Americans who volunteer their time and skills to nonprofit organizations donate an average of 10 times more money to charity than people who don't volunteer, according to a comprehensive national study on volunteering by the Fidelity® Charitable Gift Fund ("Gift Fund") and VolunteerMatch. The study found many Americans have a strong commitment to community service, with 43% volunteering in the last 12 months. More than a quarter (28%) of Americans, however, has never volunteered.

The study marks the start of an association between the two organizations. The Gift Fund is the third largest public charity in the United States and VolunteerMatch is a national nonprofit organization and an online volunteer resource. Under a new initiative, visitors to the Gift Fund's website,, can now search VolunteerMatch's network to discover volunteer opportunities with 73,000 participating organizations nationwide.

The study found that the average amount of money donated to nonprofits by Americans who have volunteered in the past 12 months is $2,593 annually, more than 10 times the average $230 donated by Americans who have never had a volunteering experience. Two-thirds (67%) of Americans who have volunteered in the past 12 months say they generally make their financial donations to the same organizations where they volunteer. And, those same active volunteers say they are more likely to increase their charitable donations in 2010 when compared to people who have never volunteered (32% of volunteers compared with 26% of non-volunteers).

The study showed that 72% of adult Americans (18 years old and older) have volunteered at some point in their lives, and 43% are currently volunteering or have within the past 12 months. More than a quarter (28%) has never volunteered.

The top reasons cited by Americans for not volunteering, the study found, were lack of time (46%), lack of interest in volunteering (32%), pressure from organizations to give more time than people want to give (32%), and the inability of Americans to find the right organization to match their interests (30%).

The study also found that six in 10 (60%) Americans say that charities have become too much of a big business and nearly as many (56%) believe that many charities have disorganized management. These attitudes are especially prevalent among people 55 years old and older.

More than a third (38%) of those surveyed say they want to see immediate results when they volunteer, while 44% indicate that if an organization cannot take advantage of their specific skills, they will likely volunteer elsewhere.

Almost half (47%) of those surveyed say volunteers today are more motivated by what they get from the experience than by what they can do for others. Half (51%) are more likely to volunteer for an organization that has other volunteers in their age group. This attitude is especially prevalent among those under 35 years old (59%). Adults under 35 are more likely to volunteer in order to network professionally (33%) than adults 55 years old and older (14%).

Regardless of the motivation, the act of volunteering remains valued. Six in 10 (63%) Americans cite a renewed sense of the value and importance of community service within their network of friends and family. The study found that two-thirds (66%) believe "true philanthropy" includes the giving of both time and money, with one-fifth (19%) saying that every American should be required to give a certain percentage of both each year to nonprofits. When asked if volunteers should be provided an incentive, such as a gift card, to give of their time, the vast majority (84%) disagreed, believing there should be no incentive or reward attached to volunteering.

Seven in 10 (72%) say supporting a cause they care about is among their top reasons to volunteer. Other top reasons include: because it's the right thing to do (69%), to fill an unmet need in the community (54%) and to set an example for family and children (53%).

Almost one-third (31%) of the respondents say they are more likely to volunteer time given the recent economic downturn. Among those who volunteer, almost half (49%) do it monthly or more frequently. Nearly one-third (31%) volunteer a few times a year.

The mission and work of an organization is a big factor in whether people choose to support it (61%), as is the fact that an organization is serving local community needs (59%). Roughly half say the reputation of an organization and being able to use a specific set of skills are also key influencers on whether they volunteer.

Volunteering rates increase with education. Six in 10 (61%) Americans with postgraduate degrees volunteered this year, compared with 56% with college degrees and 36% with high school degrees. Middle-aged adults aged 35 to 54 years old are more likely to have volunteered this year (54%) than those younger (33%) or older (38%). Women are more likely than men to volunteer monthly or more often (54% for women vs. 43% for men).