Why Volunteers Give Their Time: A Deep Dive

Posted Wednesday, May 8th, 2019 by Sterling Volunteers Staff

We Asked Thousands of Volunteers Why They do What They do

More than 77 million American adults volunteered through an organization last year. That’s a record – and it’s also about 30% of all people over the age of 18 in the entire country. Combined, they volunteered for almost 7 billion hours, or about 800,000 years*.

Why Do They Do It?

In a partnership with VolunteerMatch, the web’s largest volunteer engagement network, we asked more than 7,000 volunteers one of the big questions in the volunteering industry – “Why do you volunteer?”

66% of respondents volunteer to improve their community, and 83% do so to contribute to a cause they care about.

The ultimate answer to the question? Well, many people agree that they volunteer basically to “give back,” but when you look a little more closely you find that motivations for volunteering can be complicated, highly personal and subjective.

People have other reasons for volunteering beyond simply “giving back,” and it’s important to understand every volunteer’s perspective. Here are some of the motivations for volunteering.

“I Volunteer to Socialize”

More than 35% of respondents said one of the reasons they volunteer is to socialize. We also discovered that just because a volunteer enjoys the social aspects of volunteering, doesn’t mean they’re not committed. In fact, they might be more committed than the average volunteer.

Half of these social volunteers said they volunteer 2-3 times per month or more frequently, versus 40% of all respondents.

Additionally, 81% of social volunteers give time with multiple organizations, versus 75% of all respondents. Social volunteers may be volunteering for reasons other than the cause, but they actually may be among your most committed advocates.

“I Volunteer to Build My Skills”

There aren’t many volunteers who choose to volunteer daily, but, surprisingly, 200 of our respondents reported that they do. One-third of daily volunteers also said they volunteer “to build their skills in a particular area.” It’s an interesting motivation for volunteering, and one that isn’t frequently discussed.

Half of these skill-based volunteers are 34 years old or younger, with 14% 18 years or under. It makes sense. Volunteering can offer young people unique opportunities to get into new fields, network with good people to know, and develop skills they can use throughout their lives.

Skill-based volunteers also spend more time volunteering each time they volunteer compared to the general population. Almost 20% give more than 5 hours each time they volunteer, compared to 13% of all respondents.

“Why do you volunteer?” Open-Ended Responses

Respondents also had the opportunity to share their own personal reasons for volunteering. As you read through them, you come to understand just how subjective the motivations for volunteering can be. You realize that behind every volunteer is a story of sorts, a lifetime of experiences that lead to them giving their time to a cause, and we should all be grateful for that, no matter the volunteer’s motivation.

“I love animals.”

“To combat depression.”

“I just retired, so now I have more time to spend doing it.”

“It gives my life purpose.”

“To put my skills to work for others.”

“To understand the world.”

“To show my children and grandchildren the importance of giving back.”

“I’m offered volunteer time off through work.”

“We take our students to volunteer in the community.”

“So those I’m serving feel cared for.”

“My husband and I volunteer in the National Parks and Monuments to help the underfunded system …”

“It’s therapeutic for me.”


“Family time with my daughter.”

“I am disabled but need to feel useful.”

“To engage with my work colleagues.”


“It gives me an opportunity to travel.”

“For spiritual/religious reasons.”

“To share my knowledge …”

“… In honor of our daughter … she was extremely involved in the community and we know it is what she would want us to do.”

Stay Tuned for More Volunteer Insights

Visit our blog for more insights into the “Volunteer Perspective: Industry Insights 2019” report. Read the full report here.

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*According to the 2018 Volunteering in America report by the Corporation for National and Community Service.