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The Discouraging Reasons We See Less Volunteering

Updated on January 9, 2018
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Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, an industrial engineer, a mother of two, and a published sci-fi and horror author.


2014 saw volunteering rates hit a ten year low, following a multi-year decline. Volunteering rates have remained at the same low rates since then. Why is civic engagement suffering? Why are fewer people volunteering? Let's look at the reasons why.

Why is volunteering and civic engagement declining?
Why is volunteering and civic engagement declining? | Source

Reasons Why Volunteering is on the Decline

  • Intensive rules and regulations required for volunteer events that discourage participation; think mandatory training on 2 deep leadership with kids' groups because they can't ban homosexuals, mandatory waivers and paperwork to do many potential projects; add hurdles and hassle, and you discourage people from doing it for free.
  • Volunteering is strongly tied to church attendance, and volunteerism rates are declining along with rates of weekly religious service attendance.
  • Civic involvement is very high among two parent married couples with children. The rise of the single mother means fewer women can volunteer; even the half of single mothers not living in poverty are time poor.
  • Background checks can discourage people from volunteering. This is certainly a factor when volunteers are required to pay for background checks themselves.
  • The punishment of people who have volunteered, such as orders to take down small "give one, take one" book exchanges, discourage volunteering. Stories of people arrested for feeding the homeless or not getting permits also discourage others from helping out.
  • Schools that make it mandatory to graduate guarantee that the kids who do it but don't want to do it will never do it again. Schools that don’t recognize volunteering with religious organizations generate ill will, as well as distaste for the charities that the school does recognize and requires students to support.
  • The demonization of Christian groups discourages volunteering. The dramatic marginalization if not outright exclusion the most eager to help and hardest workers leads to fewer volunteers. These groups are only allowed to work in many venues if they never, ever mention why they are contributing; think of the state of Kentucky telling volunteer pastors in juvenile prisons never to mention Jesus.
  • We see less volunteering due to demands by liberals that religious groups meet secular society standards, often shutting them down. Examples of this range from Catholic Charities in Massachusetts shutting down instead of giving kids to homosexuals and the Salvation Army lawsuit for requiring leaders to be professed Christians. When the organizations people are emotionally invested in shut down, the individuals are less likely to move to new charities.
  • Many popular forms of volunteering are no longer allowed, such as schools banning bake sales per Michelle Obama’s school lunch rules. Mothers who readily baked a cake for a class fundraiser are now told to meet strict dietary guidelines or risk their effort get wasted because the unapproved item was tossed out.
  • Charities focus on cash contributions over physical labor, so their requests for money become a literal toll over time. According to a 2014 Newsweek article, Volunteering in America Is On the Decline”, fundraising is now the most common volunteer activity. This removes the emotional depth physical involvement created. This is compounded by the charities that do collect items publicly selling them for money to run the organization, instead of helping people by distributing the items. This discourages donations of items as well as volunteering with the group.
  • When people think everything is the responsibility of the government, they don’t want to do it themselves. This is compounded by the increasingly common view that money taken in taxes equates to charity, so people need to give neither time nor money to the community.
  • The mistaken belief that awareness equals action means people pour time and energy into marketing campaigns for charities. People troll for Facebook likes and membership in online communities – which typically have little or no actual benefit to the group. Most of the activists like the page of the group, ask their friends to do the same, and then do nothing else. The digital volunteers changed out the image on their Facebook page - and rarely do more.
  • Diversity hurts civic involvement. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam found that civic engagement declines when the ethnic and religious diversity of an area increases. With diversity on the rise, accelerated by immigration and government policies that fuel Balkanization, volunteering decreases.


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