The Unexpected Economic Value of Volunteering

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Everyone knows volunteering is a good thing to do. Volunteers touch lives and make a difference. However, volunteering also provides true economic value. Be proud: Indianapolis ranks 10th among the nation's largest cities for volunteering!

Who are these volunteers? The latest "Volunteering in the United States" report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (February 2016) contains a treasure trove of demographic information about volunteers. Have you ever wondered who volunteers more - men or women? The answer: women, by a lot (27.8 percent versus 21.8 percent).

What age groups are more likely to volunteer their time? If you guessed retired seniors, a logical assumption, you’d be wrong. People in the 35- to 44-year age group (28.9 percent) and the 45- to 54-year age group (28 percent) are well ahead of the younger and older groups. Young Millennials, age 20 to 24 years came in dead last at 18.4 percent. That is not "on fleek" - millennial-speak for not good!

Volunteers touch many people's lives and make a big difference at a personal level - including their own! According to a U.S. News Report, volunteers may be happier, healthier and enjoy a higher level of self-esteem and psychological well-being. They may even live longer! So there are lots of good reasons to volunteer. But one often overlooked reason is the huge economic impact volunteering can make at the city and state level.

The Economic Impact of Volunteering

Volunteering at the state and city level is detailed on the Corporation for National and Community Service website (https://www.nationalservice.gov). Their website has Indianapolis ranked #10 out of the 51 largest cities in the U.S. Now that’s something to be proud about!

Nearly a third (30.3 percent) of Indianapolis residents donated 38.9 million hours of service in 2015. The annual economic value of their time: $795 million. That’s the size of the entire economy of the sovereign state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, an island in the Caribbean Sea! (GDP equivalent based on data from the International Monetary Fund.)

Eight hundred million dollars can go a long way in Indianapolis, too. For perspective, that’s close to the initial cost estimates of the Indiana Highway 31 Corridor Project (Policy Analytics, LLC listed a cost of between $870 and $900 million). Ideally, volunteer contributions improve the efficiency of our non-profit institutions and allow more of the city’s dollars to be allocated to local projects like road improvements.

At the state level, Indiana comes in at 25th. Overall, 26.7 percent of us Hoosiers (1.474 million) volunteer in one form or another. That’s better than the national average, which is slightly less than 25 percent. The annual economic value of Indiana’s volunteer contributions is $3.1 billion. That amount can practically pay for three Indianapolis International airports!

If you’re wondering about the size of volunteering in the United States, it compares to the economy of Greece!

So Start Volunteering!

So far, I’ve discussed only big numbers. But those big numbers are the result of many smaller contributions that each of us can make. Thousands of people volunteering for just one day can have a big economic impact.

There are tons of volunteering opportunities in Indianapolis. For example, the Rotary Club of Indianapolis sponsors Indy Do Day in September. (It’s actually three days - September 28th, 29th and 30th.) Indy Do Day encourages local individuals and businesses to volunteer their time. Its website (indydoday.org) contains projects submitted by organizations requesting volunteers. Individuals and groups can also use the website to sign-up. In the past, Indy Do Day has attracted as many as 18,000 volunteers. If each volunteer averaged only three hours of work, the economic contribution could be greater than $1 million.

Indy Do Day was patterned after the Lilly Global Day of Service, which takes place this year on September 28th (lillyglobaldayofservice.com). More than 24,000 Lilly employees in 65-plus countries have participated in past years. And, on October 21st, IUPUI and United Way of Central Indiana join forces for a Day of Caring. Look around, I’m sure you can find many other opportunities!

Summary

If you volunteer, good for you! If not, take some time to research the many volunteering opportunities city, state and nationwide and start making a difference. You’ll gain as much as the people you help! Your contribution may seem small, but collectively it can have a huge economic impact.

Bill Wendling, CFA, is a Senior Portfolio Manager with Bedel Financial Consulting Inc., a wealth management firm located in Indianapolis. For more information, visit their website bedelfinancial.com or email Bill at bwendling@bedelfinancial.com.

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