April 23, 2017; Star Tribune
Next week marks National Volunteer Week, a time when the nonprofit sector extends its heartfelt gratitude to the more than 25 percent of adults in the U.S. who volunteer their time and talents to keep a variety of missions moving forward. The weeklong recognition, initiated by Points of Light, an organization founded by President George H. W. Bush in an effort to mobilize the power of volunteer action and service, is celebrated by grassroots advocacy groups, major foundations, and small charity shops alike.
As the sector commemorates the occasion and collectively thanks the millions of volunteers who selflessly give back to causes of all kinds, it might be an opportune time to dive a little deeper into the impact volunteerism has across all sectors all year long.
According to a 2016 Independent Sector report, the estimated value of volunteer time last year amounted to $24.14 per hour, a rate that has increased nearly 50 percent since 2001. The Corporation for National and Community Service reports that over 60 million Americans provided 8 billion hours of volunteer service valued at $193 billion in 2016. While unpaid volunteers are saving their respective organizations significant labor costs, they are also helping to generate a positive ripple effect that is leaving for-profit bottom lines in a pretty good shape as well.
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Countless reports over the years have reinforced the fact that employees, and especially millennials, prefer a workplace culture that embraces civic action and giving back. The nonprofit America’s Charities, which promotes giving and volunteering in the workplace, estimates that a solidly run volunteer program could save certain employers up to anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 per employee. The potential for cost savings thanks to volunteerism is largely centered on employee engagement.
Creating meaningful opportunities for employees to connect to a purpose greater than a paycheck has consistently been linked to higher retention rates and greater satisfaction in the workplace. When employees are more engaged and connected, they are naturally more productive, which inevitably leads to a higher-functioning operation overall, which in turn tends to yield a bottom line that is rather robust. It’s pretty simple to grasp.
Not to mention, the societal impact of volunteerism isn’t too shabby either. Communities of varying sizes and populations greatly benefit from a concerned citizenship. Engaged community members, like employees in a workplace, are inherently more invested in the delivery of public services and cohesive community networks, leading to a generally stronger social fabric.
So to say National Volunteer Week is meant only for nonprofit organizations to show their appreciation to the youth, working men and women, “stay at home” parents, veterans, retirees, and many more classifications of individuals who give their time, talent, and treasure to advance their respective missions, is a misconception. The week’s true intent is to set a time for all of us—all sectors and all people—to recognize that it takes a village. A village of citizens who care enough to clean up their highways, tutor a child, bring groceries to a person with limited mobility, foster a dog without a home, teach someone how write a resume, and so much more. This is our common thread. And as the theme of this year’s National Volunteer Week reminds us, service is what unites.—Lindsay Walker