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Volunteering on the upswing around the country

Volunteering is on the upswing in America. That’s an uplifting tidbit of news amid all the disturbing reports on the economy, state budget and the stress of fighting the war in Iraq. Every once in awhile we need a break from grim, 24/7 hard news and turn our attention to the softer, human side of life.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of volunteers rose from September 2003 to September 2004. About 64.5 million people volunteered at least once during that period, up from 63.8 for the same period a year before, and up from 58.8 million for the period ended September 2002.

“Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in volunteer service among Americans,” said Desiree T. Sayle, director of USA Freedom Corps. “Today’s numbers show that our nation’s commitment to volunteer service is sustained three years later. The important idea of actively engaging in volunteer service is taking root across the country.”

Keeping it rolling

Here in Mississippi, in addition to the thousands of nonprofits, we have two important volunteer support organizations — the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service and the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits. These groups facilitate volunteering and help keep the ball rolling.

The Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service makes grants, provides technical assistance and conducts training. One of its major programs is AmeriCorps, which has enlisted more than 9,500 Mississippians in service projects resulting in over $44 million in scholarships for school or student loans. It also coordinates the annual Make A Difference Day in Mississippi, where more than 48,000 volunteers have helped their neighbors with over 800 projects. The commission has conducted more than 60 training events for communities throughout Mississippi, enhancing the skills of over 11,700 volunteers.

The Mississippi Center for Nonprofits provides training and counseling to nonprofits all across the state. It conducts nonprofit operations and management seminars to help attendees raise the efficiency and effectiveness of their organizations. From properly structuring the board of directors to fundraising to event management, the center has become a valuable asset to Mississippi’s nonprofit community.

Last fall, the center compiled an important report on the role and impact of nonprofits in Mississippi. Our state’s nonprofits range from hospitals to boys and girls clubs, from universities to environmental groups, from emergency shelters to groups working with the elderly, veterans and the disabled.

Making an impact

To give some sense of the economic importance of nonprofits, spending in 2002 by Mississippi nonprofits exceeded $4 billion — more than the state’s general fund budget of $3.7 billion. From total spending of $1.8 billion 10 years ago to more than $4 billion in 2002, the growth of nonprofits has been nothing less than spectacular.

According to the Department of Labor report, about one-fourth of men and about one-third of women participated in volunteer work in the year ended September 2004, about the same proportions as in the previous year. Folks age 35 to 44 were the most likely to volunteer, closely followed by 45 to 54 year olds and 55 to 64 year olds. The voluntary rates for these age groups were 34.2%, 32.8%, and 30.1%, respectively.

Parents with children under age 18 were more likely to volunteer than people without children and married people volunteered at a higher rate than those who had never married.

Why take the time?

Why do so many men and women volunteer their time and talents and donate their money to worthwhile causes?

Volunteering is clearly contrary to our materialistic culture. I mean, isn’t everybody just in it for the money? Why give away time and money when we could be pursuing our selfish interests and buying more stuff with our money?

I think there’s an inherent need inside humans that finds giving rewarding. Ego is a word that has been worn out over the past decade or so; however, I’m convinced our ego finds a measure of fulfillment in giving back to our communities. It gives us ownership in the society where we live and raise our families. It’s a really good thing and I hope that the volunteer statistics continue to rise.

For those who do not volunteer regularly, or at all, there are untold opportunities all around us. Nonprofits have a chronic need for volunteers in every community in Mississippi. Pick a subject that interests you and offer yourself up to help out and I guarantee that you will find fulfillment in contributing to your community.

Thought for the Moment

If there is no wind, row. — Latin proverb

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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