Social distancing and heightened dangers of Covid-19 may disrupt volunteerism for months and could exacerbate a long-running decline in the number of Americans who volunteer. This is especially worrisome for organizations that depend on volunteers, since many volunteers are older Americans – the most likely to get sick.
But many organizations are now scrambling to find alternatives by developing virtual volunteer opportunities for people who are now required to stay inside to avoid spreading coronavirus.
The need to focus on virtual opportunities comes as the share of Americans who volunteer has dipped. In 2005, nearly 29 percent of all Americans volunteered. A decade later, that share was just 25 percent, according to the Corporation for Community and National Service.
The decline wasn’t all that noticeable in part because the people who did volunteer were giving a lot more hours. In 2015, Americans gave nearly 8.5 billion hours of volunteer service, up from slightly more than 8 billion hours in 2008.
Nathan Dietz is a researcher who studies volunteering at the University of Maryland Do Good Institute and co-author of the 2018 paper “Where Are America’s Volunteers?” He notes that even though nonprofits have seen “declines in participation, at the organizational level they could make up for that by asking their mainstay volunteers to just dig in and give a little bit more time volunteering.”
But those mainstay volunteers are typically 75 or older.