Right now, 65 percent of Americans donate money to causes, but only 27 percent volunteer. Catchafire's founder explains why this is changing.
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others? —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.\n
Charitable giving is a part of life for most Americans. 65 percent of households with incomes less than $100,000 donate, and 98 percent of high net worth households donate. I predict that the future of giving is getting even brighter. I think that more Americans will give, and I think that more Americans will give more and smarter.
In fact, the catalyst behind this change is already at work. It’s called volunteering. Volunteering as we've known it for the last few centuries has for the most part remained the same—people giving labor. But now, volunteering is going through a rebirth. “Service” or “volunteering” will disrupt the $300 billion philanthropic sector and the effect will not only be more giving, but also deeper and smarter giving.
Service is the new giving. Let me tell you why.
1. Volunteering (the gift of time) is a gift that keeps giving.\n
Different than giving money, which is transactional—cold, unemotional, and over as fast as you can write a check—giving time is experiential. Unlike transactions, experiences elicit feelings and create memories that live on far beyond the act of giving itself.
2. Volunteering answers a basic human need. \n
The need to connect with other human beings, to feel like a contributing member of society, to be part of a community, is one of the most basic human needs. Many psychologists recommend volunteering as a way to fight depression. In a world where our social connectedness online often leaves us feeling isolated, volunteering is a way to meaningfully connect with people around issues that people are passionate about. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It is one of the beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely help another without helping himself.”
3. Volunteering is transformational. \n
Like yoga, meditation, exercise, and eating healthy, volunteering makes you feel good, strengthens you, centers you and has long-term positive effects. Part of this is because when you find the right volunteer experience, it’s a learning experience—both personally and professionally. Volunteering is an alternative form of education in many ways. Volunteering abroad or with a group of people outside of your immediate sphere gives you perspective and oftentimes an appreciation for the abundance you have in your life. Volunteering your professional skills gives you both a leadership and a professional development opportunity. Unlike giving money, volunteering allows you to be upfront and personal with your impact; and when you see the effects of your good actions on another being’s life, there is a boost. Not only do you immediately feel more confident and empowered as a changemaker, but you also become an empowered changemaker.
If volunteering is so obviously beneficial, why don’t more people do it?
A measly 27 percent of Americans volunteer, compared to over 65 percent of Americans who give money, perhaps because giving money has been so much easier and more convenient than giving time. But technology is changing this. Websites like VolunteerMatch and Catchafire (my organization) make it easier to find volunteer opportunities that match one’s time and location criteria, skills or talents one wants to give. By making volunteering more easily accessible and relevant, I predict we’ll see more people making the time to give their time.
Why NOW is volunteering evolving? And, how exactly is volunteering going to disrupt the giving economy?
Technology is disrupting every market including the sleepy giants. Even volunteering cannot escape it’s tendrils.
Like most things that go viral or have mass adoption, there is a positive feedback loop that creates a virtuous cycle and exponential growth. With more and better volunteer opportunities this loop is, for the first time, being created. When people have a great volunteer experience, they will volunteer again because it makes them feel good. They will want to tell their friends about it, and those friends will tell their friends. You know how the story goes.
Taking this a step further, volunteering will spur on more donations and a deeper, smarter connection to causes. When you volunteer, you are connected to the cause in a much deeper way than when you make a transactional donation. Emotional connection is a primary driver of charitable donations. With more volunteering will naturally come more donations. Also, when you spend time with a charitable organization, with their staff and beneficiaries, you learn about who they are and how they operate. With this knowledge, you will make smarter giving decisions.
I’m going to bet that in the next 2-3 years volunteering 2.0 is going to hit a tipping point that will quickly move service to become as popular as monetary donations. You can help make this happen.
Rachael Chong is the CEO and founder of Catchafire.\n
Original image from Clive Chilvers/Shutterstock.com