How much do you volunteer in Rhode Island? How often do you hear about volunteer opportunities in Rhode Island? Are you unemployed? Does volunteering sound like something that could help you along your career path? If you were asked to volunteer for five causes all on the same day, would be able to pick one, or would you just stay home?
These are the questions that arise from reading Volunteering in America 2010. Each year The Corporation for National and Community Service releases Volunteering in America, a document that aims to strengthen communities through civic engagement. In Volunteering in America 2010, Rhode Island ranked 42nd out of 50 states and Washington D.C. for community service, having slipped from 40th in 2008.
The document contains data compiled from the Current Population Survey (CPS), and their partners the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By sharing information and theories on the factors contributing to volunteerism rates, this document ultimately provides insight into how to increase volunteerism.
Among many factors, this year’s report found six factors that point to an increased volunteer rate and three factors that indicate lower volunteer rates. The six factors that are directly correlated to volunteerism include: higher rates of homewonership, lower rates of foreclosure, shorter average commute times, more robust nonprofit infrastructure, lower poverty rates, and higher education levels. The three factors that are indirectly correlated to volunteerism are: prevalence of multi-unit housing, higher poverty rates, and longer commuting times.
Without a doubt Rhode Island’s volunteer rate, which can be articulated in a few ways, is due to Rhode Island’s astounding number of non-profit organizations per capita—nationally there is an average of 4.45 non-profits per 1,000 residents, in Rhode Island there are 6.88 non-profits for every 1,000 residents!
In 2009, 24.1% of Rhode Island residents volunteered. The approximately 201,500 volunteers provided about 24.2 million hours or $505.1 million in services. According to visual information that is provided on the Volunteering in America Website, Rhode Island’s top four volunteer activities were: fundraising, 30.3% of the volunteer population, collections and food drives, 19.2%, professional, 17% and education, 14.9%.
Of the factors that are associated with lower rates of volunteerism, Rhode Island’s rate of unemployment is according to this document, the most obvious reason for Rhode Island’s low national ranking. Unfortunately, studies that predict a correlation between high unemployment and low volunteer rates are inconclusive.
According to unemployment statistics, the prediction that unemployment and low volunteerism rates are directly related is fairly sound. For example, Utah, rated number one in country for volunteerism with 44.2% of residents providing volunteer services, had an unemployment rate of 6.4% in December of 2009. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate at this time was 12.2%, almost double that of Utah’s. Similarly, Nebraska, South Dakota and Kansas—all states will lower unemployment rates than Utah—rank in the top ten for high rates of volunteerism.
However, this conclusion wavers in the face of the fact that Michigan, who continues to hold the highest unemployment rate in America was ranked 25th for volunteerism in 2009, with a volunteer rate of 29.1% of their residents and an unemployment rate of 14.3%. Michigan also has a lower number of nonprofits per capita compared to the national average, a factor that the study directly correlates to increased volunteerism.
With this in mind, perhaps in some cases it may be that an increased number of nonprofits also increases the number of volunteers, as the study states. However, for a small state such as Rhode Island it seems that being able to concentrate volunteers—that is make less opportunities available to more people—may be worth considering. It would be interesting to consider the number of nonprofits per square mile radius as opposed to per capita to analyze the impact of nonprofits from another angle.