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Is volunteering in steep decline?

The number of volunteers is in a decline, leading to social isolation and an inability to provide critical services

Volunteering is in decline, prompting concerns from community groups that people will experience greater social isolation and organisations will fail to provide services.

Given the positive benefits of volunteering for both the organisation and for individuals, a new United States study from the School of Public Policy has called for charities and not-for-profits to renew their efforts to encourage people to donate their time.

The report said it’s important to turn this data around quickly: “The first step to turning around the decade-plus decline in volunteering and other civic behaviours such as charitable giving is recognising and understanding their breadth and scope.”

The report found that despite record numbers in the total number of volunteering hours and total dollars donated to charity, the United States is experiencing a two-decade long decline in the number of people who volunteer and give annually.

It found that the decline is more prevalent in states that have been historically rich in social capital, which is generated by positive interactions between individuals and on how often individuals engage in civic and social affairs in the community.

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The Do Good Institute recently published research that indicated a significant gap in young people’s interest in helping others and actual volunteering hours. Its concern is on how these individuals will maintain positive mental and physical health.

“Volunteering has been shown to generate both direct and indirect positive benefits: it helps strengthen communities and also helps the volunteers themselves.”

The report found the decline is due to a lack of attachment to the community, the time it takes to commute, socioeconomic characteristics and the communities inability to provide its residents with ongoing and regular civic opportunities.

In the United States, volunteers have historically provided more than eight billion hours of service to their communities through organisations. The decline could threaten not only the capacity of organisations to provide needed services but could contribute to detrimental side effects for volunteers, including disengagement with society.

Volunteers are more likely to stay stronger emotionally, mentally and physically,” the report read. “Volunteering also encourages other types of civic participation, discourages antisocial behaviour and promotes socioeconomic achievements.”

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