United Way volunteer ranks growing steadily

The United Way’s ranks of volunteers are steadily growing as the national rate of volunteerism drops, studies have shown.

In 2013, the volunteer rate for the country was at 25.4 percent, meaning roughly 62.6 million people did volunteer work through or for an organization that year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This was a decline of 1.1 percent from the previous year and the lowest the rate has been since the the BLS started gathering data in 2002.

However, the 27 percent volunteer rate seen in 2002 was the highest amount of volunteers the country has seen in 30 years, according to research from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The research shows that volunteerism has had its ups and downs with 23.6 percent in 1974 and 20.4 percent in 1989.

While this is happening United Way agencies have had a 23.8 percent increase in their volunteer rate from 2002 to 2013, despite the national trend, according to information from a survey United Way CEOs conducted by the United Way. And the global panel of CEOs that were surveyed predict further gains in volunteers for the future.

The United Way of Central Missouri (UWCM) has reflected these statistics in their volunteer numbers, said Theresa Verslues, vice president of the UWCM.

“Every year, we do increase our volunteers in all of our committees,” Verslues said. “We feel like it has been a steady growth for us. For the last nine years, it has been consistent.”

The UWCM has more than 400 volunteers between their different communities, boards, campaigns and fund donors, she explained.

“We rely heavily on volunteers throughout all of our processes. We are governed by a volunteer board of directors,” Verslues said.

In 2004, the governing body of the UWCM had 74 members, now it has 142, she explained. She continued to say that the fund allocation review board has grown from 41 in 2004 to 62, and the campaign leadership board from 30 to 44 in the same time.

“It is not like we just do one thing,” Verslues said as to why the United Way is seeing more and more volunteers despite national trends. “What we find is because of all the different things the United Way does it lends itself to have a variety of volunteers. Whatever you want to do, we can match you up with something in our own organization or in one of our partner organizations.”

The UWCM also makes it easy for people to volunteer. Potential volunteers can sign up for duty at its website, unitedwaycemo.org. The UWCM is also working on a web-based program and a telephone service that can recruit volunteers, connect them with nonprofits who need them and mobilize volunteer forces locally, Verslues said.

“Volunteers are some of the greatest assets we have in this community,” said Gaye Suggett, United Way chairman of the board and volunteer for nearly 20 years. “I think the main thing is there are so many great volunteers that are involved … and there are so many great minds. It is wonderful when you step back and look at things and see how others are helping each other. It shows you how caring we are.”

Suggett has worked in the fund allocation process and the campaign process that collected the funds from donors. She knows the system and believes in it, she said.

“I could go to the community and say I can verify how the money is being used,” Suggett said about her experience volunteering for multiple processes in the UWCM. “After I learned about all the good that was done with the agencies, and the need that was out there within the community, it helped me on the campaigning. I was able to educate the people that are giving their money about the agencies.”

Some other interesting facts about volunteering in the U.S. include, youth volunteering through education groups is up, while volunteering through civic groups is declining, and more Americans volunteer though religious organizations than any other group, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. Also more women volunteer than men, according to the survey from the United Way.

This data affirms the United Way’s experience with the Women’s Leadership Council, a 12-year-old organization with more than 55,000 volunteers that was created and led by women.

All together, men and women combined, the United Way has more than 2.8 million volunteers and 9.3 million donors worldwide. It raises more than $5 billion every year for programs in 41 countries and territories across the world.

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