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Why is volunteering important?

It's a pretty common mistake to think of volunteering as just something nice that people can do. Sure, it may make them feel great about helping, but what impact does it really have?

Getting things done

Volunteers have an enormous impact on the health and well-being of communities worldwide. Think of all the ways that volunteers make a difference in day-to-day life:

  • Volunteers deliver critical services—from serving as volunteer fire fighters or participating in search and rescue, to delivering meals to homebound seniors or homeless youth, to manning the phone lines at domestic violence and sexual assault centers.
  • Volunteers help to keep our neighborhoods, streets, parks, rivers, green spaces, and water clean and safe for everyone.
  • Volunteers tutor, teach, mentor, coach, and support young people with everything from math homework to dealing with personal crises to football and soccer tourneys.
  • Volunteers walk dogs, pet cats, clean cages, help with adoptions and feedings, and contribute veterinary expertise to organizations like animal shelters and wildlife rehabilitation centers.
  • Volunteers educate the public on health and safety; doctors and nurses donate time and medical knowledge to free clinics and natural/civil disaster areas worldwide.
  • Volunteers take tickets at film centers and performing arts events, lead tours at museums and historical societies, and ensure that arts and cultural festivals—from small-scale gatherings to massive multi-stage concerts—run smoothly.
  • Volunteers build houses and schools, dig wells, and repair infrastructure around the globe.

You get the idea…

By the numbers

Another way to measure the impact of volunteers is to take a look at statistics like hours served and the economic value of volunteer time.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 61.8 million individuals in the United States contributed 8 billion hours of volunteerism in 2008 alone.

The economic value of all this volunteering? $162 billion U.S. dollars.

To put that in context, this is roughly equivalent to the 2008 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Egypt. And that's just U.S. volunteers (to check out your country's stats, click here)!

Volunteers are critical partners of and participants in societies throughout the world. Whether actively giving their time through a formal or ad hoc organizations, or taking part in what is sometimes called "informal volunteering" where citizens voluntarily participate in community activities or provide personal care for family, friends, neighbors, or even strangers as part of accepted cultural norms of giving and reciprocity.

The impact of no volunteers

Finally, here's one more way to visualize the impact of volunteers. Try this little exercise: imagine if one day, all volunteers simply didn't show up.

What would our cities, towns, state/provincial parks, schools, places of worship, and libraries look like? What basic needs would go unmet? What opportunities to grow, learn, and thrive as a society would be lost? The truth is you likely cross paths with a volunteer at least once if not several times a day, no matter where you are in the world.