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Volunteering in the U.S. is on the decline, reports say


It's the time of year when many people give gifts to each other, and traditionally they also give their time, usually to help people less fortunate. But volunteering is on the decline. And while you might think that's because of the pandemic, research shows that trend started even before.

NATHAN DIETZ: From the early 2010s to the mid-2010s, roughly, we started to see slight declines in the national volunteering rate every year.


So that was the trend, and then COVID made it harder for organizations to find helping hands, according to Nathan Dietz at the University of Maryland's Do Good Institute.

DIETZ: Some people might fall out of the habit of getting together and doing things in person with other people, and many organizations, in terms of volunteering, that's about the only type of volunteer opportunity they offer.

MARTIN: That's something that James Coleman says he is seeing in Chicago.

JAMES COLEMAN: Almost to the point of it being nonexistent, except primarily from church members that are supporting an organizational mission.

MARTIN: Coleman is a pastor and the director of community wellness at the Westside Health Authority.

COLEMAN: COVID really took away a lot of engaging in general - right? - let alone civic engagement.

INSKEEP: His organization helps small businesses grow and helps people to find jobs, and he says fewer volunteers says something about America at large.

COLEMAN: People are under pressure. They're seeking to survive for themselves. So the focus isn't on uplifting others. It's on day-to-day living.

MARTIN: Professor Dietz at the Do Good Institute says people also need a reason to keep volunteering.

DIETZ: I think if you give the volunteers a meaningful experience and show them that the work that they're doing really is important to the organization, really does help meet the needs of people in the community - you know, give them a volunteer experience that is well organized, well conceived, well designed and well managed - then people will want to come back.

MARTIN: That's Pastor Coleman's experience in Chicago.

COLEMAN: As you give, it's an opportunity to grow, to receive gratification from helping other people. I've learned over the years, as I've given to people, that I've developed a deeper gratitude for human life by seeing other people succeed in their life.

INSKEEP: And that's part of his sales pitch - you get something out of giving.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHROMONICCI'S "WARMTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.