The Volunteering Spirit Is Alive and Well

Majority of US Consumers Donate Time and Money

Last week, the world commemorated the 18th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001. In 2002, 9/11 was designated as a federal holiday — the National Day of Service and Remembrance. This day promotes local volunteerism as a way to pay homage to those who died in the attacks, the first responders, and the military. Millions of people volunteer in their communities on this day and throughout the year. We surveyed 1,000 US consumers to find out their habits when it comes to donating their time or money. Read on to find out what types of organizations get the most support, how consumers choose where to donate, and more.

Sharing the Wealth

If you watch the news, you might not know it but the spirit of community is going strong. 79% of the consumers we surveyed have donated money to a non-profit organization or an individual in need. There are many ways to give money to charitable organizations, including donating items with monetary value, such as canned food, clothing, or toys. Among those who donate money, this was actually the most popular method, chosen by 71%. 62% send money directly to the organization, 45% donated via a third-party (i.e., rounding up their purchases at a store), 27% participated in a run/walk, 12% donated money via a televised telethon or concert, and 12% organized a fundraiser on Facebook or other social media. When it comes to giving to individuals, 61% directly donated money in-person to individuals and 40% donated to an individual via a GoFundMe or similar online campaign.

Money Well Spent

Many factors come into the decision of where to make monetary donations. According to those who donate money, the top eight reasons were:

  1. 66% – Donate where I believe the need is greatest
  2. 36% – Recommendations from friends or family
  3. 32% – Carefully research organizations to make sure I agree with their mission
  4. 30% – Choose organizations that are well-known
  5. 19% – Find organizations through my church/temple/synagogue
  6. 17% – Received direct solicitation from the organization (e.g., emails, letters, etc.)
  7. 16% – Social media presence
  8. 12% – Saw TV commercial or other advertising

There are also lots of choices when it comes to the types of organizations that consumers decide to support with their hard-earned cash. Health and medical was the most popular category with 44% of those who donate having this at the top of their list. Natural disaster relief was next with 38%, followed by animal welfare (38%), religious (31%), youth programs (31%), education (26%), environment (24%), civil rights (16%), arts & culture (13%), political (11%), international (11%), and 12% opted for “None of the above”.

Chunk of Change

When asked how much money they donate to charity in a typical year:

  • 26% – Less than $25
  • 19% – $26-$50
  • 7% – $51-$75
  • 12% – $76-$100
  • 16% – $100-$250
  • 10% – $251-$500
  • 14% – More than $500

We also asked if their workplace had a matching donations program. 85% said there was no such program available where they worked. Of the remaining respondents, 11% said yes, and they have had their donations matched; while 5% said yes, but they haven’t taken advantage of the program. 

With the holiday season approaching, we were curious to find out what time of year was the most popular for donating money. Turns out the majority of donors (70%), do so all throughout the year. This is slightly down from 75% when we asked a similar question our 2011 survey. The holiday season was the next most popular time of year with 19% saying this was when they were most likely to donate. 2% or less donate on their birthday, during the school year, or on a particular holiday. 5% chose “Other” including tax time or when a disaster strikes as their write-in response.

Time Is Money

The second half of our survey was devoted to questions related to volunteering or donating one’s time. 46% of respondents have volunteered with a non-profit organization. Of these volunteers, 88% have volunteered their time working on projects or events, 22% have organized a volunteer drive at their place of work, school, or church/temple/synagogue; and 18% have put their time into organizing a fundraiser. 11% of volunteers surveyed have traveled to another state or country to work on a volunteer project including mission trips and working in areas hit by natural disasters.

48% of respondents said they volunteer with just one organization. 29% work with two organizations, 14% with three, 3% with four, and 6% with five or more non-profits. As far as how many hours they volunteer per month, you can see from the chart below that 1-5 hours was the most popular response chosen by 42%.

Doing Good

We asked those who volunteer what motivates them to get out there and help, here are their responses ranked from most motivational to least:

  1. I believe it is important to help others
  2. I want to contribute to a cause that is important to me
  3. To improve my community
  4. My religious or spiritual beliefs
  5. Meeting new people and visiting new places
  6. To learn new skills
  7. My family volunteered when I was growing up
  8. I am inspired by a public figure

Once motivated, the next step is finding an organization that you want to volunteer with. The top methods used to find a volunteer spot were quite similar to those used to choose where to donate money. The top five being: 55% volunteer where they believe the need is greatest, 42% get recommendations from friends and family, 29% carefully research organizations to make sure they believe in their mission, 27% choose organizations that are well-known, and 26% find organizations through their church/temple/synagogue.

The leading types of organizations where consumers choose to volunteer their time are: youth programs (40%), religious (36%), animal welfare (33%), health and medical (33%), education (31%), natural disaster relief (22%), and environmental (19%). Volunteer work can be difficult both emotionally and physically but the upsides far outweigh the challenges. The volunteers we surveyed said they have experienced the following benefits from their experience:

  • 66% – Had fun
  • 59% – Felt fulfilled
  • 55% – Found a sense of purpose
  • 55% – Increased happiness
  • 50% – Made new friends, built community
  • 34% – Increased self-confidence
  • 27% – Decreased stress and anxiety
  • 26% – Learned job skills
  • 23% – Stayed healthy, physically fit
  • 22% – Decreased depression
  • 2% – Other
  • 4% – None of the above

We asked the 54% of respondents who have not volunteered their time, what was stopping them. The number one reason chosen by 48% was that they didn’t have time. Other reasons for not volunteering include: no opportunities near where I live (18%), no one asked me to (17%), volunteer schedule is too inflexible (16%), don’t know where to find information on volunteering (15%), available volunteer roles are uninteresting (7%), and other (12%).

The Takeaways (or Should I Say Giveaways)

Circling back to where we began with the National Day of Service on 9/11/19, 5% of our respondents participated in a volunteer project on this day. Another 4% attended a remembrance ceremony, and 1% organized a volunteer project. Unfortunately, 37% of consumers we surveyed had not heard of this holiday. When it comes to donating, many more people donate their money than their time. A majority of people who donate, do so to non-profits as well as directly to individuals in need. Organizations working on youth programs, animal welfare, religious issues, and health and medical topics were the top five categories of nonprofits for both monetary donations and volunteering. And finally, the number one reason people don’t volunteer is lack of time.

Allie Smith is the former Director of Charts for eMarketer with over 15 years of experience in the world of market research. Her love for charts and graphs is only outweighed by her love for her whippets. She spends her free time watching Law & Order reruns while knitting cute hats for dogs.