More than 83 million Americans volunteer their time for charitable organizations each year. In manpower terms, that amounts to the equivalent of over nine million full time employees at a value of $239 billion. Volunteerism is up sharply in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Some speculate the outpouring stems from heightened feelings of patriotism. Others say it as motivated by a need to do something constructive in the aftermath of tragedy.
Whatever the cause, the trend is unmistakable. Just about all U.S. non-profit groups and charities report increases in volunteers.
Jason Willett, spokesman for VolunteerMatch.org, an Internet service that matches volunteers with agencies that need help, says the number of visitors to the site jumped after September 11. "Right around the 13th or so," he said, "there was a massive interest on the part of the general public's part in finding ways to help the nation recover and respond to the tragedies, so people were looking for ways to get involved, not just in New York and Washington DC, but all over the United States."
Most of the new volunteers ended up doing things like helping out in homeless shelters or tutoring, Jason Willett says, in other words, activities that had no direct link to the attacks. "I think everyone realized that we are all in this together," he continued. "And there are needs in the community that need to be addressed. People were willing to look outside of themselves and say, "'I am willing to give time of myself to make a difference.'"
According to the group Independent Sector, an organization that tracks U.S. volunteerism, 44 percent of U.S. adults volunteer their time to charities in any given year. In the weeks following September 11, Independent Sector reports, 70 percent of Americans donated time.
Bob Goodwin is President of the Points of Light Foundation, which promotes volunteering. Mr. Goodwin said, "There has been a radical increase in the number of people who are volunteering. There has been this tendency to look within, not to what the government can do, but what individual Americans can do to insure that we strengthen our own communities. And volunteering becomes the most available strategy that the average person has."
The outpouring could have long term consequences. Independent Sector reports that 73 percent of those who donated either time or money in response to September 11 say they plan to continue to give.