I stumbled upon this nifty little chart through Andrew Sullivan’s blog at The Atlantic. 63 million people, or 27% of the population, volunteered last year. That’s an incredible statistic. It shows just how involved Americans are in helping their communities/the world.
What’s even more telling is the proportion of volunteers by type of organization. Look at the blue section – Religious – and you’ll notice that just more than 1/3 of ALL volunteers put in their hours at a religious org. Again, an incredible statistic. But this chart is missing an important element: motivation.
How skewed would this chart be if we asked people about their deepest motivations for volunteering? So 34% of people volunteered at “religious” organizations. Let’s look at the next two categories. Education/youth service and community service. Why don’t we actually throw hospitals in there for good measure, since lots of hospitals are started and operated under the auspices of a particular faith group.
Even though community and youth service programs might be secular, there’s a fair chance that a lot of the folks who volunteer their time are religious. I don’t know of a faith tradition that says “Don’t go out and help people, it’s a waste of time.” Of course, this is all conjecture, but as we’ve seen, the most fervent and dedicated volunteers tend to be those who do so from a place of faith.
So next time, let’s measure motivation. The statistics that we uncover might be that much more incredible.