Volunteering In America

A greater percentage of Americans adults are volunteering today than at any time in the past 30 years. Grantees can capitalize on this increase by requesting volunteers to help them meet their non-federal share. These include late teens, Baby Boomers, and those aged 65 and older.


Throughout the history of the United States, Americans have valued an ethic of service. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote over a century and a half ago, this ethic of service “prompts [Americans] to assist one another and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state.”

Today, the ethic remains strong. Across our country, Americans of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities are donating their time and talents to schools, churches, hospitals, and local nonprofits in an effort to improve their communities and serve a purpose greater than themselves. According to data collected over the past 30 years by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans over the age of 16 are volunteering at historically high rates, with 61.2 million giving their time in 2006 to help others by mentoring students, beautifying neighborhoods, restoring homes after disasters, and much, much more. Although the adult volunteer rate for 2006, 26.7%, was down slightly from the 28.8% recorded from 2003-2005, a greater percentage of Americans adults are volunteering today than at any other time in the past 30 years. These include late teens, Baby Boomers, and those ages 65 and older. In addition, more and more young people are becoming involved in their communities through school based service-learning and volunteering.

This increase is a critically important development because volunteering is no longer just nice to do. It is a necessary aspect of meeting the most pressing needs facing our nation: crime, gangs, poverty, disasters, illiteracy, and homelessness. It is also an important part of maintaining the health of our citizens, as research consistently shows that those who volunteer, especially hose 65 years and older, lead healthier lives than those who do not engage in their communities.

To deepen our understanding of volunteering in America and to promote its growth, the Corporation for National and Community Service each year produces a number of reports and other publications that look at volunteering from many angles, including age, gender, economic status, education level, and geography. The most recent of these reports, 2007 City Trends and Rankings, takes a detailed look a volunteering habits and trends at the city level for the first time ever ranks the 50 largest American metropolitan areas in terms of their volunteer rates. A companion report issued earlier, 2007 State Trends and Rankings in Civic Life, takes a similar look at volunteering in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and also offers a first-ever statewide Civic Life Index, which ranks the overall civic health of states based on such factors as volunteer rates, voting rates, attendance at public meetings, and the prevalence of civic associations. And a third report, Volunteer Growth in America: A Review of Trends Since 1974 uses Census Bureau data to track volunteer trends over the past 30+ years. For more detailed information on these and other reports on volunteering and civic engagement in America, please visit our Research and Policy section.

Volunteering In America. Corporation for National Community. 2008. English.

Last Reviewed: September 2008

Last Updated: November 13, 2014