Volunteerism up at United Way, down in U.S.

The rate of volunteerism has grown at local United Ways in the U.S. but dropped in the U.S. overall, a new report from United Way Worldwide says.

Most volunteers are not volunteering for work likely to make the most impact in addressing priority community needs, says Volunteering: The Force Multiplier for Community Change.

And most United Way CEOs expect the pace of volunteering to continue to grow this year, it says.

Including volunteers engaged directly by local United Ways and those recruited for community partnerships among local agencies and United Ways, the number of United Way volunteers grew to 2.68 million in 2012 from 2.32 million in 2006, an increase of 15.5 percent, the report says.

That compares to an increase of 5.4 percent to 64.5 million volunteers from 61.2 million over the same period in the U.S. overall, it says.

The number of volunteers engaged directly by local United Ways grew to 1.3 million in 2012 from 1.05 million in 2002, or an increase of 23.8 percent, compared to an increase of 9 percent from 59.2 million volunteers in the U.S. overall during the same period.

The share of Americans age 16 and over who volunteer fell from 27.5 percent in 2002 to 25.4 percent in 2013 — its lowest point since the federal government began collecting data 12 years ago, the report says.

While the declining share of people volunteering may reflect the fact that the U.S. population has grown, the number of actual volunteers grew 9 percent from 2002 through 2012, the report says.

And in a survey of 74 United Way CEOs in the U.S. and abroad, 73 percent predicted volunteering will continue to grow in the next year.

Mentoring and tutoring

Eighty-nine percent of United Way CEOs said spending time as a mentor is the act of volunteering that generates the most lasting results for individuals and communities, and 62 percent said tutoring and teaching struggling students also is critical.

Yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 7 percent of American volunteers’ main donated work last year involved mentoring, and 10 percent of volunteer activity was related to tutoring or teaching, United Way says.

Another 11 percent involved collecting, preparing, distributing or serving food,; 10 percent involved fundraising; 8 percent involved general labor or transportation; and 7 percent involved serving  on boards.

Nationally, over 300,000 people have signed up on the volunteer website at United Way, which has been working to recruit volunteer readers, tutors and mentors for struggling students.


Sixty-one percent of United Way CEOs say local employers are the best source for boosting volunteering and creating opportunities on a scale needed to improve communities, the report says.

According to The State of Health of Corporate Volunteering from the International Association for Volunteer Effort, companies throughout the world increasingly are focusing their volunteer work on specific priorities, applying all their resources — human, financial, in-kind and relational — to maximize their impact on a broad range of human, social and environmental problems, United Way says.

Personal connections

Still, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, top-down requests from employers are less effective than volunteer requests from co-workers or from people within a volunteer organization, United Way says.

People are roughly as likely to become involved with a volunteer organization through personal outreach and explanation as through someone asking them to get involved, it says.

Of those being asked to volunteer, it says, nine in 10 will become a regular volunteer when asked by a relative, friend or someone at the volunteer organization.

Schools and faith communities

In the survey, half the United Way CEOs said educational institutions are crucial players in the effort to enlist more volunteers, and 43 percent said religious communities were strong volunteer partners.

One-third of Americans volunteer most of their time through their faith communities, a trend that is even great among older volunteers., United Way says.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it says, 42.9 percent of volunteers age 65 and older did their volunteering mainly through or for a religious organization, compared to 26.8 percent of volunteers age 16 to 24.

The decline in  volunteerism could be connected to the slowdown in regular religious attendance over the decades, the report suggests.

According to Gallup, nearly four in 10 Americans say they attended religious services in the past seven days, compared to nearly five in 10 in the mid-1950s.

Gender and parenthood

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship, women continue to volunteer significantly more than men across all demographic divides, United Way says.

And working mothers continue to volunteer at a significantly higher rate than the population overall.

Among parents with children under age 18 volunteered, 33.5 percent volunteered, compared to 26.5 percent of the population overall and 23.8 percent of individuals without children.

Todd Cohen

Fundraising, Part 8: United Way diversifies

By Todd Cohen

[This article was written for Blackbaud.]

With growth in fundraising accelerating only modestly in recent years, United Way has been diversifying its fundraising and focusing on its impact, says Sherrie Brach, executive vice president of investor relations at United Way Worldwide.

That strategy has included targeting women, young professionals and major donors, engaging workplace donors as volunteers, focusing on solving community problems, and “productizing” priority community initiatives to generate new investment opportunities for individuals, corporations and foundations, Brach says.

United Way also has made it a priority over the next two to three years to use mobile and social media strategies to engage donors.

United Way affiliates throughout the world raised a total of $5.2 billion in 2012, reflecting overall growth of 1 percent to 1.5 percent in the U.S. and 7 percent outside the U.S., says Brach, a former CEO of United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg.

“In 2013, we anticipate the trend to continue in overall fundraising,” she says. “We are experiencing slow but steady growth.”

Workplace campaigns remain United Way’s biggest channel for giving, with corporations representing the biggest sources of revenue through corporate gifts and access to employee giving.

But United Way no longer is relying only on “transactional” fundraising through workplace giving, and in recent years has segmented its fundraising by types of donors and tried “to connect more directly with individuals than through the workplace channel,” Brach says.

Ten years ago, in Greensboro, N.C., United Way launched its first affinity group for women, an effort that has been adopted at many affiliates and been expanded to include affinity groups for young professionals.

Those efforts, along with efforts to generate “leadership” gifts of $1,000 or more, and “Tocqueville” gifts of $10,000 or more, have represented most of the growth in United Way giving, which has increased at a rate of 1 percent 2 percent a year since the economy collapsed in 2008, Brach says.

United Way also is partnering with companies to connect with individual donors, often by providing opportunities to volunteer for community projects that are in sync with the companies’ business.

And by setting education, income and health as priority community needs, and creating special initiatives to address those needs, United Way has created new opportunities both for volunteerism and for giving.

“It’s a holistic strategic approach to solving community problems, and you can create investment opportunities for individuals, high-end donors, and corporations and foundations, that bring investment into our work,” Brach says.

Local United Ways that have taken that approach have developed more diversified funding streams, and while their campaigns have been growing only modestly, those new sources of income have grown more dramatically, Brach says.

In addition to $79.5 million raised through its annual workplace campaign and corporate giving, for example, Wells Fargo also has contributed a $5 million grant to develop a “Financial Capability Network” in partnership with United Way.

“We don’t just measure the annual campaign,” Brach says. “We’re now looking at total current-year support.”

A handful of local United Ways also have begun large endowment campaigns focused on their community initiatives, and some have received six-figure and eight-figure gifts to support them.

Now, United Way is looking at ways to use digital media more strategically to engage donors.

“That’s the only way we’re going to connect with young people and individuals,” Brach says. “The challenge we have is how are we able to articulate and communicate and represent our work through online engagement in a way that connects quickly with donors.”

Next: Conservation groups connect with donors

The series:

Part 1: Growth tied to capacity, cultivation, communication.

Part 2: Healthcare groups invest in capacity.

Part 3: Higher education cultivates major gifts.

Part 4: Data key for independent schools.

Part 5: International affairs groups refine message.

Part 6: Religion focuses on fundamentals.

Part 7: Arts and culture groups focus on donors.

Part 8: United Way diversifies.

Part 9: Conservation groups connect with donors.

Part 10: Communication, planning key for human services.

Part 11: Peer-to-peer strategy fuels medical research.