April 27, 2000
The Power of Volunteers
by Robert C. Baldwin
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
About The Author
Bob Baldwin was born and raised in Connecticut, and was graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1951 with a degree in English.
After college Bob entered the U. S. Air Force and served in various parts of the world until retirement in 1981. While stationed at the Pentagon in Washington, D. C., he completed his Master's degree in History at American University in 1969.
Upon retirement fiom the Air Force, Bob assumed the position of Executive Director of the United Way of Redlands Area, and remained in that position until his second retirement in 1992.
Bob is now teaching management and English courses part time at the University of Redlands' Whitehead College.
April is National Volunteer Month and the purpose of this paper is not only to praise volunteers, but also to show the powerful impact that voluntarism has had, and is continuing to have, on our society.
From earliest time, the tradition of helping others has played a central role in community development. Throughout human history, individual volunteers and charitable organizations have been the major source of basic health and human care services to the needy. Lately, other voluntary nonprofit organizations have developed specialized services such as youth programs, disaster relief and programs for the elderly. However, our fast-growing and increasingly diversified population has intensified human need and requires that new programs be devised to meet modern social needs. As a result, new voluntary associations have come into being to meet the emerging problems of modern society such as AIDS, child abuse, and illiteracy.
Volunteers, and the nonprofit organizations that focus their activities on specific problems, have grown in number. Young people, retired people, employee groups and even corporations are increasing their contributions of time, treasure and talent in order to make their communities more livable. The power of their efforts has significantly improved the quality of life in our town and in communities across America.
Volunteering is not a give away. Rather, it is a giving back because we all grow individually by helping others, and because we all benefit from living in safe, healthy and harmonious communities.
THE POWER OF VOLUNTEERS
April is National Volunteer Month. Recognition of Americas many volunteers is appropriate because these dedicated people work year round in an astonishing number of ways to improve the quality of life for all of us. It is estimated that nearly every other American over the age of 13more than one million hundred peopleworks as a volunteer, giving an average of about five hours each week to help other people, good causes and their own communities (Drucker, OConnell). This month their neighbors, nonprofit organizations, and entire communities will recognize the contributions of dedicated individual volunteers. However, the immense overall beneficial impact of voluntarism on our society may not be fully appreciated. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is not just to praise volunteers for the many services they provide, but to analyze the powerful impact voluntarism has had, and is having, on our society, and the important role voluntary community service will play in the future.
Volunteers have always played a major role in community development. Phil and Nancy Seff, science writers for the Redlands Daily Facts, recently wrote that research suggests prehistoric humans had a life span of only about 20 years, but those species survived because the many dependent children who would have been left alone by the early deaths of their parents must have been reared by others. A recent book (Neanderthal by Paul Jordan) reexamines the connection between Neanderthals and the evolution of modern man and reports that excavated Neanderthal graves have revealed the remains of crippled and badly injured individuals who were apparently cared for by their fellows and later buried (History Book Club Review, Spring 2000, p. 13). One touching example has cornflowers placed in the grave suggesting compassion, perhaps even affection, as well as the development of some ritualistic format (Fortey, 1998, p. 304). Another researcher has concluded that altruism and other forms of social bonding fit into our theories of survival-of-the-fittest biological evolution, and that the chances of human survival may have been improved by cooperative efforts such as group hunting (Luks, 1992, pp. 54-55). The idea of helping others is as old as mankind. Perhaps its in our genes.
The tradition of helping others has flourished in this country. In 1830, Alexis de Toquevillethat oft-quoted commentator on American democracy whose views are still insightful-- wrote Americans . . . have voluntary associations of a thousand kinds: religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. . . . If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they found a society (de Tocqueville, 1945, p. 10). However, even de Toqueville might be surprised to know that voluntary associations (i.e., nonprofit organizations) have increased from about a quarter of a million 20 years ago to about one and a quarter million today, and that about half of these, somewhere around 650,000, are nonprofit organizations devoted to charitable and educational purposes
Historical examples of this voluntary tradition in our own community are numerous. They include the establishment of the Redlands public library by A. K. Smiley with borrowed money; the founding of an association (later to become Family Service Association) by Alberts brother Alfred who sought to find the cause of need and remedy it; the operation of a free tuberculosis clinic by the physicians of Redlands at a time when this dreaded disease was little understood; the assistance given by the Redlands House of Neighborly Service to migrant Mexican laborers and their families in the early decades of this century; the treatment of homeless people by volunteer physicians in the hobo jungles along the railroad tracks in Loma Linda during the Great Depression; and, of course, Grace Stewart Mullens inspired creation, in 1924, of the noble tradition of fine music without charge in the Redlands Bowl which has enriched the lives of many both during and since the Depression years. These and many other charitable undertakings in Redlands have highlighted the continuing battle between caring volunteers and the forces of ignorance, poverty and disease.
Prior to World War II, voluntary assistance to others primarily took the form of food, shelter and basic medical care. Programs to meet these fundamental human needs continue to form the centerpiece of volunteer activities today. However, our fast-growing and increasingly diversified population has intensified human need and has introduced new forms of human need that were previously either unknown, unmanageable, unfathomable or unspeakable. AIDS, Alzheimers disease, drug-resistant infectious diseases, domestic violence, child abuse, illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, youth violence, mental illness, sexually transmitted diseases, environmental issues, welfare to work programs, drug and alcohol abuse, animal rights and the needs of the dying are only a few examples of modern social problems that have been fearlessly attacked by volunteers. At the same time, modern medicine, new technology, government funding for local programs, and the American tradition of forming voluntary associations have combined to find new ways to help volunteers deal with the underlying causes of such suffering. As John W. Gardner, former U. S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, put it almost every major social breakthrough in America has originated in (the) voluntary sector (OConnell, 1999, p. 53). Peter Drucker, the management guru, obviously feels the same way when he says that voluntary nonprofit organizations should be recognized as the countrys first line of attack on its social problems (WSJ, 2/28/00, P. A40).
The rapid growth in the number of voluntary nonprofit organizations in America during the 80s and 90s has already been noted. Whats also significant is the fact that an estimated 20 to 30 thousand such organizations are being added each year to address specific issues or the problems of a specific community. Some nonprofits, like private foundations and national volunteer organizations, have assets that rival the largest for-profit corporations, while others, like San Bernardino Sexual Assault Services, operate on a shoestring. Nationally, such organizations as the Peace Corps, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), AmeriCorps and Colin Powells Alliance for Youth have organized voluntary activities on a grand scale and have created new organizational structures to meet new social needs. Since 1965 over 120,000 Americans have performed national service as VISTA volunteers to help solve the problems of urban and rural poverty. In the past two years the Alliance for Youth and its 441 partner organizations have reached more than 10 million American children and raised more than $295 million to strengthen the character and competence of Americas youth. Other new initiatives use old methods to solve contemporary problems such as the National Music Teachers Associations commitment to provide 20,000 hours of free music lessons to at-risk youth, and the National Senior Service Corps program that provides Foster Grandparents for disadvantaged youth.
The economic impact of American volunteering is also significant, but is rarely noticed. If the more than 100 million American volunteers who donate five hours of their time each week were paid, even at minimum wage, their services would be worth over 130 billion dollars a year. For another example, the Redlands-Yucaipa Division of the California Retired Teachers Association recently estimated that every hour of voluntary service its members contribute saves $14 in service that other organizations or the government would otherwise have to provide. Retired teachers assist in classroom activities, help in community centers, sing in choirs, register voters, serve as docents in museums and galleries, and serve on commissions, boards and committees in cities, libraries, symphonies, schools, theaters, art associations and churches which seek to bring a degree of culture and civility to their communities. The Redlands-Yucaipa Division reported performing a total of 30,713 hours of such volunteer activities in this area last year for an estimated savings of over $400,000 to the government and other agencies. And these estimates of the value of volunteer time dont even begin to consider the wealth of nonprofit agencies in terms of the wages paid to supporting staff, the value of property owned for charitable purposes, and the economic impact of the purchase of goods and services such as food, shelter, and other commodities for the hungry and homeless in local stores.
To meet the growing need for human care services in the East Valley area, new nonprofit organizations are being formed and local voluntary organizations have modified their programs to deal with emerging problems, many of which have long been in existence, but not recognized until latelysuch as domestic violence. More recently, many of these organizations have found that forming partnerships to tackle new issuessuch as youth violenceare often more effective and less expensive than competing with like-minded organizations for the charitable dollar. A small sample of the initiatives taken by local organizations to meet the changing requirements of our modern society includes:
Option House was founded in the 1980s to assist victims of family violence with shelter, courtroom assistance, and transition programs to independence.
DASH Incorporated is an adult day care support center that provides day care services, caretaker support groups, research, education and counseling for our growing population of elderly persons and their families.
Project Home Again was formed in the early 1990s to find permanent solutions to homelessness by supplementing traditional programs of food and shelter with comprehensive programs for homeless families including child care, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, job referrals, and housing assistance.
Child Advocacy Program provides trained volunteers to represent the interests of abused, sexually molested and neglected children in Juvenile Court where judges may have only five minutes to decide whether such children should be left in an abusive home or placed in a foster home .
Inland Harvest collects and distributes a daily average of about 5000 pounds of surplus food, previously discarded by schools, restaurants, bakeries, hospitals and retailers, to other volunteer organizations to feed the hungry and the homeless.
Building a Generation is a community-wide voluntary effort, incorporating the support of volunteers and staff from government, religious, business, social service agencies, schools and other nonprofit organizations to promote the healthy development of young people, including training and education programs for parents and conflict resolution programs in the schools.
Volunteer service to the community, however, is not just the province of dedicated individuals and nonprofit organizations any more. More and more, corporations are finding that successful volunteer programs are important to their own interests. Although corporate support for charitable activities has not been strong in the past, Americas businesses are becoming more involved with them through increased financial support, in-kind donations and company-organized volunteer projects. For example, larger corporations, such Hewlett-Packard and Allstate Insurance, have mentoring programs for low-income students. The Howard Johnson Corporation encourages its employees to engage in youth-serving activities and provides internships and scholarships for high school students who are interested in hospitality careers. United Technologies has extended its tuition assistance program to a full four years for employees who lose their jobs because their work is being transferred to other U. S. locations or overseas. Enron, a Fortune 500 electricity and natural gas company, has committed to reach 45,000 children over a two year period by contributing books and volunteers to school literacy programs, and by making $5000 grants directly to children who are asked to target those dollars to programs of their choice. Doing so, Enron believes, will encourage children to learn more about the needs of their communities and the importance of giving back.
Putting their money where their mouths are, two dozen of the nations top executives, including the CEOs of Xerox, Johnson and Johnson, and Chase Manhattan, with the leadership of Paul Newman, whose own generosity sets the example, propose to encourage other corporations to join them in giving $15 billion dollars to charity annually to promote social programs that benefit their employees and their customers (WSJ, 11/18/99, p. B1). Similarly, family and business foundations are seeking to link socially responsible businesses with nonprofit organizations working in their areas of interest. The Wall Street Journal describes this as a new trend in philanthropy and describes how entrepreneurs, many of them from Silicon Valley, seek to help charitable organizations, not only with money, but also with business advice or services such as updating a computer system (WSJ, 3/29/00, p. CA1).
Employee volunteering is also increasing at a rapid rate. Until quite recently, companies considered volunteer activity as time away from the job or a loss of productivity. At best, it was thought of as something to be done on the employees own time. Many companies still think this way. However, in the 1960s and 70s the United Way opened the door a crack by convincing employers to conduct in-house fund-raising campaigns so that at employee dollars at leastif not their time or personal effortscould be used to provide programs, many of which, like child care for working parents, were of direct concern to the employees. Then, in the 80s and 90s, employers began to see the connection between the goals of volunteer-run programs and their own corporate strategies. Literacy programs help to improve the quality of the workforce. On-site child care reduces absenteeism and improves worker morale. Low-cost health care clinics provide medical treatment and other services such as school physicals for the working poor and their families, who usually are not covered by insurance or company benefit programs. A 1993 report from then President Bushs Points of Light Foundation revealed that 92 percent of the companies surveyed encouraged their employees to become involved in community service, and that 77 percent of those companies agreed that volunteer programs benefit corporate interests. A similar poll, conducted in 1997 by Boston College, noted increased top management support for community programs such as education, job training, crime, environmental issues, literacy and substance abuse (Stallings, 1998, p. 3). Furthermore, many companies have reported that employees who volunteer for community service with nonprofit organizations further develop such skills as leadership, teamwork, time-management, and financial management that are also useful in the workplace.
In the 1990s employee volunteering really began to take off. A few examples include:
Sears, Roebuck employees who contributed over 160,000 hours of community service during the last year and a half, focusing on youth programs such as Big Brother/Big Sister programs, the Boy and Girl Scouts, and Habitat for Humanity.
U. S. Postal Service employees who conduct food collection drives and make daily contact with elderly customers on their delivery routes to ensure their well being.
Home Depot is working with Habitat for Humanity in 60 locations around the U. S. and Canada to construct homes for low-income individuals by donating funds, housing supplies, expertise and the service of skilled employees.
Allstate Insurance Nationwide employees team up with neighborhood revitalization projects to advise low-income homeowners on creative financing plans, and to provide help when disaster relief is needed.
Target has formed good neighbor employee teams that select local schools that are most deserving of support and sign a one-year contract to assist them as needed.
Hewlett Packard has created an e-mail mentoring program that matches their employees with students in grades five through 12 to assist them with their school work.
Honeywell, Inc. has also formed a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and has brought 4000 employee and retiree volunteers together to build affordable housing around the world.
Volunteers and their families from Maxwell AFB in Alabama contributed over $38,000 worth of labor and supplies to renovate an abandoned estate and turn it into a foster home.
Retired volunteers are also getting involved growing numbers. Older people are living longer and staying active longer. Experienced volunteers are especially valuable to nonprofit agencies, and significantly enhance the ability of such agencies to provide needed community services because of their accumulated experience, knowledge, wisdom and management skills. Retired individuals with financial and organizational experience help to keep nonprofits in the black and can assist new nonprofits in getting started. For example, the Service Corps of Retired Executives (known as SCORE), itself a nonprofit organization with local chapters, connects fledgling entrepreneurs with volunteers who have considerable business experience and can help them get started. Similarly, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reports that over 160,000 of its members are volunteers for a wide variety of activities in their own communities including 31,000 Tax-Aide volunteers who help older people prepare their tax returns. Other AARP volunteers help frail elderly neighbors maintain an independent lifestyle with programs to remodel their homes to accommodate physical disabilities and to provide peer tutoring, such as computer training, that helps them gain access to the information they need to make their way in modern society and to enrich the quality of their lives.
It seems clear that the growing number of volunteers, voluntary organizations and voluntary partnerships helps to make our community a better place. What may be less well known is the fact that volunteering is also good for the volunteers own health. Several recent studies (Luks, OConnell) reveal that helping others uplifts the volunteer and provides a sense of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. One writer (Luks) reported that 95 percent of volunteers recently surveyed reported that helping others on a regular basis gave them an immediate feel-good sensation which he called the helpers high. Another author (Yalom) writes that the (positive) power of altruism to affect mental health is widely recognized by mental health professionals. Most of the students in the University of Redlands Community Service Learning Program, which requires them to perform 80 hours of community service prior to graduation, believe that volunteer work has made a difference in their own lives. Char Burgess, Dean of Student Life at the University, reports that 91% of the students who had already completed the 80-hour requirement volunteered for further volunteer opportunities during their senior year. One U of R student, who had served as an after-school sports and homework mentor at a low-income housing project, said, the kids didnt know they were low income; they were too busy just being kids. They called me coach. I liked that. A teenager in Glen Burnie, Maryland, who founded her own volunteer organization to distribute food to the homeless, said I do it because of the wonderful feelings involved with giving. Once you truly give of yourself, youre hooked for life. Another volunteer, a retired steamfitter, who supervises an anti-gang street patrol in Omaha, Nebraska, said volunteer work brings real change, change you can be a part of, change you can see with your own eyes (OConnell, 1999, pp. 14, 78-81, 144-147).
However, not everyone agrees that voluntary efforts to assist the needy are appropriate, especially those that may be encouraged, funded or required by government, businesses, or institutions like the University of Redlands. Is there such a thing as mandatory voluntarism? In March, the Ayn Rand Institute posted their comments on President Clintons proposed Summit on Americas Future, which will highlight volunteerism and community service, on the Institutes web site, calling the summit immoral and impractical. Focusing in on the Presidents statement that service to ones community is an integral part of what it means to be an American and his proposals to employ young people in public service work in return for college tuition, the Institute calls altruism the enemy of true benevolence and quotes Ms. Rand as saying Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism and with individual rights adding that I do not recognize anyones right to one minute of my life. Nevertheless, the idea of required community service is spreading. Campus Compact is a national coalition of college and university presidents committed to the idea that service builds values and citizenship skills. Forty of its 620 members, including the University of Redlands, have formal community service learning programs, and others are moving in that direction (Walker, 2000, p. 18).
Jim Fallows, Jr., writing in the New York Times last month, wondered about the social inequities that exist in todays prosperous times. The richer people become, writes Jim, the less they naturally stay in touch with the realities of life on the bottom. Prosperous America does not seem hostile to the poor, he adds, But our poor are like people in Madagascar. We feel bad for them, but they live someplace else. Jim concludes by stating that national problems like poverty and racism are one thing when considered abstractly . . . (but) can be altogether different when connected with human beingsreal or fictional. And thats the point, I think. Such issues as youth violence and elderly abuse are just abstract concepts to many of us, but most of us understand that our community would be stronger and better to live in if these problems were solved. It is the thesis of this paper that volunteers make the connection between our abstract concepts of good and the real human beings who need help, overcoming the forces of selfishness and indifference in the process.
Look, lets not kid ourselves. It would be foolish to hope that kindness, consideration, and compassion . . . will right (all) wrongs, heal (all) wounds, keep the peace, and set the new millennium on course to recover from inherited ills of humanity (Corwin, 2000, p 19). Volunteers and nonprofit organizations suffer from all of the shortcomings found in other human activities: insensitivity, poor judgment, greed, dishonesty, and deception, just to mention a few. Life in the world of community service seems to be two steps forward and one step backward. Technology may change (our) way of life, but not human nature, . . .our social problems, new and old, will not be easily solved. However, the volunteers long fight for social justice is a tribute to what we can do if we dedicate ourselves to the good fight.
And were becoming better at what we do. Overall, we seem to be making progress. As Peter Drucker, the management guru, puts it: We hear a great deal about the decay and dissolution of family and community, and about the loss of values. And, of course, there is reason for concern. But . . . (voluntary organizations) are generating a powerful countercurrent. They are forging new bonds of community, a new commitment to active citizenship, to social responsibility, to values. And surely what the nonprofit organization contributes to the volunteer is as important as what the volunteer contributes to the nonprofit. Indeed, it may be fully as important as the service . . . the nonprofit provides in the community (Drucker, 1992, p. 214).
Voluntarism is alive and well in America and spreading to other countries. Volunteers can be found everywhere, doing everything. They run, walk and ride their bikes to raise money to fight Leukemia, AIDS and Juvenile Diabetes. University of Redlands student volunteers have served in schools, hospitals, senior centers, youth centers, legal aid societies, theaters, Special Olympics, the Palm Springs film festival, animal shelters, churches, police and fire departments, museums, childcare centers, medical clinics, Skid Row soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and libraries as well as a number of overseas locations to mention only a few. Students from Bryn Mawr Elementary School in Loma Linda recently conducted a shoe drive and donated 2120 pairs of childrens shoes to help needy families in the United States and abroad.
The dark side of human nature is constantly on view in the headlines, on TV, and in the streets of our cities. On the other hand, the bright side of human nature is also continuously visible in the activities of our countless individual volunteers and voluntary organizations whose contributions to society deserve recognitionnot just one month a yearbut every day.
Volunteering helps to solve social problems, helps young people develop a sense of responsibility, enables retired people to stay active, strengthens business-community relationships, offers bold investment opportunities for the newly wealthy, saves money, and helps build a strong community spirit. Volunteering is not a give away. Rather, its giving back. Why? Because we need to sustain and preserve the civil society and institutions that we all have benefited from. Furthermore, we all grow by helping othersespecially the youngand we all benefit from living in a safe, healthy and harmonious community.
If youre in the one half of Americans who volunteerthank you! If youre in the other half, what are you waiting for?
Corwin, Norman. (2000, January/February). Message for the Millennium. Westways: Southern Californias Lifestyle Magazine, pp. 16-20.
DeTocqueville, Alexis. (1945). Democracy in America (vol. 2). New York: Knopf. (Originally published in 1835).
Drucker, Peter F. (1990). Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Practices and Principles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Drucker, Peter F. (1992). Managing for the Future. New York: Truman Talley Books/Dutton.
Fortey, Richard. (1998). Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Kaminer, Wendy. (1984). Women Volunteering: The Pleasure, Pain and Politics of Unpaid Work from 1830 to the Present. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, Doubleday & Co., Inc.
OConnell, Brian. (1999). Voices from the Heart: In Celebration of Americas Volunteers. San Francisco: Chronicle Books and Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Stallings, Betty. (1998). Volunteers from the Workplace. Electronic Journal of the U. S. Information Agency, vol. 3, No. 2, September 1998. Retrieved March 16, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itsv/0998/ijse/corp.htm
The Ayn Rand Institute. (2000). The Immorality of the Summit on Volunteerism. Retrieved March 14, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.aynrand.org/
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
The Redlands Daily Facts (RDF)
Walker, Jill. (Spring 2000) Service of Course: Students and Community Benefit from Service Learning Och Tamale, Vol. 76, No. 2, pp. 18-21.