A rash a blog comments, news articles and internet posts have appeared since the report's release. Not surprisingly, some of these sources suggest a gloomy outlook for volunteerism overall. Thankfully, there are leaders within the sector who respectfully disagree with the findings of this report. I happily count myself among the latter, primarily because I question the ability of the tool being used to accurately measure volunteer efforts on a national scale.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics survey asks participants to answer the following question: "Since September 1st of last year, (have you/has) done any volunteer activities through or for an organization?" With informal and entrepreneurial volunteering all the rage in recent years, it's quite possible volunteers engaging in these activities would answer "no" to the survey because they don't associate their work with a formal nonprofit organization. Project-based volunteering likely also impacts the responses given. I engage many skilled volunteers in projects lasting a short period of time, and these volunteers may or may not consider their service to be "volunteering". Project-based volunteering looks different than traditional service, and until a large-scale conversation about this new way to give finds its way into mainstream media it's likely most project-based volunteers don't equate their high-impact, short-term assistance with the selfless, long-term service we typically envision when it comes to volunteering. We're simply measuring a new norm with an outdated tool.
The report also indicates a dip in volunteer rates amongst respondents with a bachelors' degree or higher. My concern with this finding is twofold. First, the statistic only measures the rate of volunteering amongst higher educated adults who are at least 25 years old. The vast majority of AmeriCorps members I have interacted with fall well below the age of 25, and those participating in AmeriCorps NCCC aren't even eligible for the program at age 25. With growth reported in nonprofit sector employment, I also wonder if there might be a relationship between the dip and those who may have taken paid jobs in the nonprofit sector. Could there be a relationship between the two?
What are your thoughts? Is the volunteer rate really declining? What other factors might be impacting the reported rate?