“Some people strengthen the society just by being the kind of people they are.”
Those are the words of John Gardner, a leader of extraordinary accomplishments, including the founding of Independent Sector. His words have particular meaning during National Volunteer Week – which started April 18 – when we honor and celebrate the 63 million people in America who give their time and energy to helping others. And this week, we highlight the value of their volunteer time.
The value of a volunteer hour, as reported by Independent Sector with the University of Maryland’s Do Good Institute, went up in 2020 to $28.54, 4.9% over 2019. Additionally, according to the Value of Volunteer Time, and using data from AmeriCorps on volunteer hours, while volunteers typically contribute $200 billion to our communities, there is evidence that the number of hours volunteered by Americans in 2020 decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fact that volunteer hours went down in 2020 is certainly no surprise. What is a surprise is that in spite of it all – the impact to our personal and professional lives, our fears for ourselves and our friends and loved ones – there were still millions of Americans willing to help their neighbors – in food kitchens and distribution locations, checking on the elderly and delivering food to them, supporting health care and essential workers, at local and national organizations, donating money, or even a foundation volunteer just giving a child a free soccer ball – because the need was there. Volunteering reminds us of being included and playing a vital role in making a positive contribution to the lives of others.
Civic engagement – which volunteerism is – is at the heart of a vibrant civil society, and has been a unique part of what makes our country great for as long as the country has existed. It is the engine of nonprofit organizations working across the United States to strengthen communities and meet the needs and improve the lives of all who live there.
Gardner’s words have even greater meaning during this time of pandemic. How fortunate are we that in the best of times – and the worst of times – we can count on what are really the incalculable value and contributions of people willing to volunteer and offer their time and expertise to make positive social change and build a healthier and more equitable nation. They are people who manifest our core values of dignity and kindness, and who strengthen our society just by being the kind of people they are.