Recent decades have seen a surge in volunteerism, with the establishment of National Volunteer Week in 1974, Points of Light in 1990, and AmeriCorps in 1993.


The 2015 report, “Volunteering the United States,” released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), stated that 62.6 million Americans aged 16 and older volunteered that year. Volunteers dedicated a total of 7.9 billion hours of service, valued at $184 billion of contributed service hours.


Statistics like these certainly paint a sweeping picture of service-minded Americans, and when we investigate state rankings a little more closely, some interesting facts emerge.

Let’s take a look.


Top 5 States Ranked by Volunteer Rate

The states that grabbed the top five spots in overall volunteer rate were Utah, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Idaho.


In Utah, 43.2% of residents volunteered, logging over 170 million hours of service in 2015, which equals $3.8 billion of service hours! The majority of volunteers tutored or taught, mentored youth, prepared or served food, or engaged in general labor. Utah also nabbed the top spot in many other categories, with the highest percentage of Baby Boomer volunteers (46.9%), Millennial volunteers (33.4%), and parent volunteers (52.4%).


In Minnesota, 35.43% of residents volunteered, serving over 155 million hours, worth $3.3 billion. The majority of volunteers prepared or served food, fundraised, tutored or taught, or engaged in general labor. Minnesota also took fourth place in national rankings of both Millennial volunteer rates (30%) and parent volunteer rates (43.6%).


In Wisconsin, 35.34% of residents volunteered, clocking more than 169 million hours of service, which is worth $4.6 billion of service. The majority of volunteers fundraised, prepared or served food, engaged in general labor, or provided professional or management services. Wisconsin ranked fifth in Millennial volunteer rates at 29.4% and third in parent volunteer rates at 44.1%.


In South Dakota, 35.3% of residents volunteered, and they served 23.26 million hours of service in 2015, equaling $630 million of service hours. The majority of volunteers prepared or served food, fundraised, engaged in general labor, or mentored youth. South Dakota ranked third in the nation with a Baby Boomer volunteer rate of 37.8%, and second in the nation with a Millennial volunteer rate of (30.4%).


In Idaho, 34.1% of residents clocked over 53 million hours of service in 2015, which equals $1.1 billion of service hours. The majority of volunteers tutored or taught, mentored youth, engaged in general labor, or prepared or served food. Among the Baby Boomer rankings, Idaho took fourth place at a 37.1% volunteer rate, and in parent volunteer rankings, Idaho took second place at 44.7%.


What’s Hidden Beneath the Results?

Utah’s preeminence in the rankings can hardly be ignored, nor can the other top states’ consistent high achievements in varying categories. Seeing these results causes us to wonder what influences these states’ citizens to take such active roles in advancing the common good. 

The BLS/CNCS report provides some insight on this question and more.  According to the report, most volunteers committed only to one (72%) or two (18.3%) organizations. These volunteers served primarily through religious organizations (33.1% of all volunteers), followed by educational institutions and youth service programs (25.2%).


According to an interview with 24/7 Wall St., CNCS spokesperson Mary Love said that factors such as education, poverty rates, homeownership, and commute time also affected volunteer rates. 


For example, in South Dakota, over 90% of volunteers have at least a high school diploma, and their healthy national rank might have something to do with the easy 17-minute commute volunteers have to most positions, making it the second shortest commute in the country.

Another proud Midwestern state, Minnesota boasts a robust volunteer force, the majority of which are individuals who possess at least a high school diploma (92.8%), and who are employed. Minnesota’s homeownership rate is the third largest in the country at 70.9%, which Love says indicates “a personal interest to the long-term success of a community.” Volunteerism, then, would be a natural outgrowth of this “personal interest.”


Utah’s large Morman population plays a large role in spurring its citizens to volunteer. A whopping 65.4% of the state’s volunteers are involved in service through a religious organization, and they also volunteered more than double the time per capita, at 76 hours compared to 31 hours.


Volunteerism Unites and Inspires Promise

Although each state can boast hard and fast statistics, Americans nationwide can take heart at the impressive results of “informal volunteering,” or lending a hand to neighbors, across the board.


While analysis shows that 77.9% of Utah residents report “informal volunteering,” it also shows that in Louisiana, which took last place overall, 60.2% of residents reported “informal volunteering,” which is even higher than some states that ranked higher than Louisiana overall.  Pennsylvania, which ranked 22 overall, reported that 69.8% of residents volunteered informally, and Delaware, which ranked 28 overall, reported that 71.2% of its residents volunteered informally.


But perhaps what inspires the greatest promise is knowing that teenagers, or Generation Z, maintain a high volunteer rate at 26.4%, and that those likely to be their parents, aged 45-54, also maintain a healthy volunteer rate at 28%. When statistics show that not only is there a strong national focus on volunteering, but also that localized focus of parents rearing child volunteers, we Americans can feel hopeful in our future.


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