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Middle American Cities Lead U.S. in Volunteering

Report cites home ownership, graduation rate, commuting time, and nonprofit capacity as key drivers of volunteer rates


Contact: Sandy Scott, 202-606-6724,


WASHINGTON, July 9 /Standard Newswire/ -- A new federal report on volunteering in America's largest metropolitan areas has found that the cities with the highest levels of volunteering are largely focused in middle America; and that high home ownership rates and educational levels equate to higher volunteer rates while long commuting times and high volunteer dropout rates have the opposite effect.


Volunteer rates in America's largest cities range from a high of 40.5 percent in Minneapolis-St. Paul to a low of 14.4 percent in Las Vegas. After Minneapolis-St. Paul, the cities with the highest volunteer rates are Salt Lake City, Austin, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Kansas City, Mo.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Tulsa, Okla. The cities with the lowest volunteer rate are Las Vegas; Miami; New York; Virginia Beach, Va.; and Riverside, Calif.


Volunteering in America: 2007 City Trends and Rankings is the first report by the Corporation for National and Community Service to take a detailed look at volunteering habits and trends at the city level. The report, based on data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, is available here.


"Volunteering isn't just nice, it's necessary for tackling our toughest problems," said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation, the federal agency which oversees AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and other national service and volunteer programs. "Cities with high volunteer rates are cities that have lower crime, higher employment, better education, and a better quality of life. City leaders should use this report as a roadmap to increasing volunteering and citizen problem-solving in their cities."


The Corporation reported earlier this year that the 61.2 million adults who volunteered in the United States in 2006 represent 26.7 percent of the population. Using Independent Sector's estimate of the dollar value of a volunteer's time, the 8.1 billion hours Americans volunteered last year equates to a value of $152 billion dollars, a powerful economic impact to the entire nation.


"For too long, the factors that affect volunteering habits on a local level have remained somewhat of a mystery," said Robert Grimm, Director of Research and Policy Development at the Corporation. "This report helps community leaders understand that through efforts such as the promotion of flexible work schedules and re-invention of the roles volunteers play in organizations, we can engage more of our citizens in service and further elevate the quality of life in our communities."


The report analyzed the factors driving volunteer rates in major metropolitan areas and found four key social and demographic trends: community attachment; commuting times, high school graduation levels and poverty; and the prevalence of nonprofits and their capacity to retain volunteers from year to year.


The study found that communities in which residents have high levels of attachment as measured by indicators such as home ownership are likely to have higher volunteering rates. For example, Minneapolis-St. Paul, the number one city for volunteering, also has the highest home ownership rate of all the cities included in the report. People who own homes in a community are more likely to have a vested personal interest in the quality of life in the area, and are therefore more likely to participate in service.


The study also points out that long commutes to work can drive down an area's volunteering rate not only by limiting the time an individual has available for volunteering, but also by decreasing the time people have to interact with others at their workplace, house of worship, club, or other social network. People are more likely to volunteer when they have more social interaction because there is a greater chance that they will be personally asked to volunteer by someone they know.


Volunteer rates increase as education levels increase, and are generally lower in high poverty areas. The report identifies that if the average high school graduation rate for the major metropolitan areas was raised by 4 percentage points from 83% to 87%, we could expect to see a subsequent rise in the volunteering rate of 4.1 percentage points.


The report also finds that the capacity of a community's nonprofit organizations expands or limits volunteering opportunities. Communities with fewer nonprofit organizations per capita have limited capability to recruit, place, and manage prospective volunteers. The ability of these organizations to retain volunteers is also integral, as high volunteer turnover rates are likely to negatively impact overall volunteering rates.


Based on the findings in the report, the Corporation has recommended action steps for city and nonprofit leaders to who want to increase the level of service and civic participation in their hometowns:


Popularize flexible work schedules, employee volunteering, and virtual volunteering in order to diminish the effect of commuting times.


Encourage leaders of nonprofit and community organizations to value volunteering as an essential aspect of solving community problems by providing resources to facilitate greater participation.


Start young people on a pathway to life-long engagement at an early age by working with schools and nonprofit groups to spur community engagement through activities such as service-learning.


Encourage nonprofits to reinvent and expand the roles that volunteers play in organizations in order to attract more people to service and boost volunteer retention. For example, placing volunteers in professional positions is an excellent way to utilize their skills and gain substantial benefits for an organization.

To help community leaders put these recommendations in action, the Corporation has put together a set of free online resources about workplace volunteering, building community connections, and online volunteering. The material includes tip sheets, effective practices, and online training resources. This section is part of the "Resources for Retention" toolkit at available at


The report and its implications for strengthening America's volunteer sector will be a big focus of discussion at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service, taking place July 16-18 in Philadelphia. The annual conference, convened by the Corporation and the Points of Light Foundation, will bring together 2,800 leaders of America's volunteer and national service sector for discussions and training to strengthen volunteer management in the United States and abroad.



"Volunteering in America: 2007 City Trends and Rankings" is based on data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics through a "volunteering supplement" to the Current Population Survey (CPS) from 2002 to 2006. The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households (100,000 individuals). The Census Bureau administers the CPS volunteer supplement. The report includes profiles for 50 of the largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas including the volunteer rate compared to the average rate for MSAs and the nation; the types of organizations through which residents serve; their main volunteering activities, the average hours per year and volunteer rates for age and gender demographic groups, and key trends and highlights.


The Corporation for National and Community Service is the nation's largest grant maker for volunteering and service. Each year, the Corporation provides opportunities for more than 2 million Americans of all ages and backgrounds to serve their communities and country through Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America. It is working with USA Freedom Corps and a broad-based coalition of nonprofit, corporate, and government leaders to increase the number of volunteers in America to 75 million by the year 2010. For more information, visit