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Where are the volunteers?

It’s become a news story that is all too common recently. The Harmony Fire District last week asked residents for help with a staffing shortage.

Fire District Chief Scott Garing said the aging of present firefighters and the growth of the area is making it more difficult to maintain a level of readiness needed to provide protection.

This is a trend that appears to be repeating nationwide.

According to the Corporation for National Community Service, 25.3% of Americans volunteer, which is 62.8 million volunteers. They average 32.1 volunteer hours per person, per year, which comes to 7.9 billion hours of service, the equivalent of $184 billion. In addition, 50.5% of Americans donate $25 or more to charity annually. However, if you happen to be good at math, that works out to just 1 in 4 Americans.

The Stanford Center for Longevity lists three reasons people give for not volunteering.

According to the center, the most common reason for not volunteering is lack of free time (about half of Americans cite this as the main reason), and another common reason is that the volunteer schedules and commitments are too inflexible. Which is interesting, the center concludes, because retirees (who presumably have enough time) do not volunteer at higher rates than employees, and people ages 35 to 44 (those most likely to have young children at home and be employed) actually volunteer at slightly higher rates.

One solution is to understand about “volunteering inertia,” which is basically the habit we create by volunteering or not volunteering. Research shows people who volunteer before retirement are more likely to volunteer in retirement.

Another very common reason is that people don’t have information about where to volunteer, or if they do, the jobs are not meaningful or purposeful.

A solution would be for organizations who utilize volunteers to make sure they are matching the skills and experience of their volunteers to the roles they have available.

Finally the center found 1 out of 4 people say they don’t volunteer because no one asked them to.

People want to help as shown by the numbers who turn out during the holiday season to pack food boxes, hand out dinners or contribute gifts to angel trees and time at retirement homes.

People need to understand their help is needed long after the holidays have ended. And organizations need to do a better job at reaching out to the public for volunteers.

— EF

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