The U.S. consistently ranks at the top of many charts when it comes to volunteering. Over 62 million Americans volunteered somewhere at least once last year, which is a remarkable statistic. As equally interesting a statistic, however, comes from a new research report. In it, the authors claim that increased government spending on social programs decreases a populace's volunteerism. Similarly, whenever a country has political harmony and a confidence in its elected leaders, volunteerism drops. Lastly, the more a government "supports democratization", the less likely people are to freely give their time to others.
The entire report is here, which is long, but interesting. The main stat that jumps out, though, is this one:
An increase in governmental spending on social benefits by 1 percentage point of GDP decreases an individual's likelihood of volunteering for religious, sports, arts, or any other kind of organization by about 2 percentage points.
What does this mean for America in an election year?
Most of the report's data comes from Europe, the countries of which are smaller than the U.S. and whose economies and social practices may vary widely. So while the report may not immediately apply to current trends in America, it is nonetheless interesting to wonder what the relationship is between the governments, nonprofits, and individuals who give their time and money to make the world a better place.
Like many political issues, the water becomes murky when you wade deeply into the effects of policy on giving levels, nonprofits, and social programs. The state is able to - and should - launch many large scale programs to help people, but our world will always rely on the hard work of charities to meet the needs of those who the government can't or won't help. Many nonprofits receive government funding to fulfill their missions, but money alone can't do the whole job. It takes people willing to roll up sleeves and cook meals and read to kids and take care of animals. There will always be a need for individuals and groups to show up and help out, no matter who the President is.
Ultimately, it looks like very few people examine state spending before deciding to pitch in to help a cause. While political harmony is great, there shouldn't be anxiety on the part of nonprofit volunteer managers that if the political discourse in America suddenly becomes more civil that his or her organization will suddenly find itself without any volunteer help.
And this is perhaps the best thing about volunteers: nearly all of them are driven by something deeper than politics or pop culture. Many volunteers are deeply committed to a cause and will show up and give selflessly regardless of which political party is in charge or what the federal budget is or what the political climate is.
This is what the world needs - more passionate people willing to help others no matter what.
What do you think?
Is the report accurate? Do fewer people volunteer when the government spends more or when their is more political harmony?