A new report showing that Montanans are among the most active volunteers in the nation probably won’t surprise people in our state. Montanans are known for their generosity toward needy neighbors and community projects.
However, in these tough economic times it’s gratifying to realize that, overall, Americans in general and Montanans in particular are giving more time.
According to the Corporation of National and Community Service, a federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps and other service programs, the number of Americans volunteering and the number of hours they donated increased last year.
Last year, the agency counted 270,000 volunteers in Montana who gave 33.5 million hours of service. That puts Montana in eighth place for the most volunteer hours per resident. Utah was No. 1 with 86.9 hours per resident, followed by Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, Maryland, Oregon and Montana. Wyoming ranked No. 22 with 37.2 volunteer hours per resident.
Also in Montana, more than 8,300 people participate in national service each year through 47 national service projects and programs. In 2010, the Corporation for National and Community Service reports that it will commit more than $9.3 million to these programs, including Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America.
Patrick Corvington, head of the community service agency, told the Associated Press that the report reflects those serving through formal organizations and nonprofits, and doesn’t capture those giving in other ways. Raising money or selling items was the top volunteer activity, followed by collecting and distributing food. Others spent time providing transportation or labor, and tutoring or teaching. People primarily served through religious organizations or social and community groups. The report defines volunteers as those age 16 years or older who performed unpaid volunteer activities for or through an organization.
The report cited seven factors that affect volunteer rates.
• Volunteerism rates rise with home ownership. In Montana, 68.5 percent of us own our homes, compared with 66.6 percent nationally. And fewer Montanans (28.1 percent) live in multi-unit housing, which correlates with lower rates of volunteerism.
• Long work commutes can cut opportunities to volunteer. Montana commuters travel an average of 18 minutes to work, compared with the national average of 25 minutes.
• Volunteerism increases with education. In Montana, 90.9 percent of adults have a high school diploma or GED, compared with 85 percent nationally. Montana has a lower than average proportion of college graduates: 27.1 percent, versus 27.7 percent nationally.
• Volunteering is less common in high poverty areas. It may be that volunteering helps reduce poverty or that poverty reduces the tendency to volunteer. In any case, Montana had an above-average rate of volunteering despite a poverty rate of 14.8 percent, which is worse than the national average of 13.3 percent.
• Higher unemployment coincides with lower volunteering. Montana’s jobless rate stayed below the national average throughout 2009, and it remains below average today.
• High rates of home foreclosures coincide with less volunteer activity. Montana hasn’t been plagued by high foreclosure rates.
• Having many nonprofit organizations in a community boosts volunteerism. Nationally, there are 4.45 nonprofit organizations per 1,000 city residents. In Montana, there are 9.29 nonprofits per 1,000 city residents.
The corporation prepared the report in partnership with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau.
“People are turning toward problems rather than away from them,” Corvington said. “People want to be part of the solution. They want to make a difference.”
Thanks for making a difference, Montana volunteers.