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Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University Receives $100,000 Federal Research Grant to Help Strengthen Volunteering


June 2, 2011

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Nonprofits, policy makers and scholars will have a better understanding of the factors that impact Americans’ volunteering as a result of research being conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the National Science Foundation have awarded the Center a $100,000 grant to study trends in volunteering over time and what influences whether or not people volunteer.
“This research will provide new insights into the personal and national circumstances that cause volunteering rates to rise or fall,” said Una Osili, director of research for the Center. “It will examine how changes in the economy, the labor market and employment trends such as those experienced in recent years affect participation in volunteering.”

The study will show the proportion of people who switch between volunteering and not volunteering. It will help public officials and nonprofits better understand the relationship between public policy changes and participation in volunteering, and will show the effects of major demographic shifts, such as the retirement of baby boomers.

“Understanding these trends will allow nonprofits to anticipate when their volunteer ranks may swell or diminish so they can plan accordingly,” Osili said. “Knowing what shapes people’s ability and willingness to volunteer also will help policy makers and nonprofits identify ways to encourage more people to give their time and skills.”

Nationally, 63.4 million Americans volunteered 8.1 billion hours of service in 2009, according to CNCS. Volunteers have a tremendous impact in the lives of others and in communities across the country, from tutoring children and delivering meals for senior citizens to providing arts and cultural opportunities and preserving the environment.

“Our partnership with the Center on Philanthropy will allow us to build on the research that we publish annually on our Volunteering in America (VIA) website,” said CNCS Chief Strategy Officer Heather Peeler. “VIA is the nation’s official source for statistics about who volunteers today, and what volunteering is like across the country. Our partnership with the Center gives us a unique opportunity to learn more about why people get and stay involved with volunteering. This will help us strengthen the voluntary sector – one of the Corporation’s main strategic goals – and promote lifelong civic engagement.”

The research will look at the effect of changes in personal circumstances on volunteering. It is based on the Center on Philanthropy Panel Study (COPPS), the only nationally representative, longitudinal study able to show how various changes in people’s lives affect their volunteering over time. COPPS surveys the same 9,150 families throughout their lifetimes and across generations, providing important insights that cannot be gleaned from one-time surveys of different households. That will allow researchers to examine whether and how life changes such as retirement, job loss, changes in health, shifts in finances, marriage, divorce or birth of children affect people’s volunteering habits.

“The support of the National Science Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service for this research underscores the crucial role volunteers play in communities,” said Patrick M. Rooney, executive director of the Center. “We are pleased that CNCS, the experts in volunteering, selected the Center on Philanthropy to help improve the understanding of volunteering in America and how it is affected by major national and personal events.”
The Center on Philanthropy Panel study is conducted in conjunction with the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which has surveyed the same 8,000 households since 1968. As children of these respondents have matured, they have been added to the sample, which now exceeds 9,150 households. In 2001, researchers added the philanthropy component, designed and sponsored by the Center on Philanthropy.
About the Center on Philanthropy
The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University is a leading academic center dedicated to increasing the understanding of philanthropy and improving its practice worldwide through research, teaching, training and public affairs programs in philanthropy, fundraising, and management of nonprofit organizations. For more information, visit